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Of the Several Forms of Government - St. George Tucker, View of the Constitution of the United States with Selected Writings 
View of the Constitution of the United States with Selected Writings, ed. Clyde N. Wilson (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1999).
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Of the Several Forms of Government
This was Tucker’s Appendix B to volume 1 of his edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries. Tucker considered it a necessary introduction to his lengthy treatment, in the next two appendices, of the constitutions of Virginia and of the United States. His strongest point of insistence is on the necessity for governmental power to be restrained within specifically delegated limits. Of course, it is this emphasis on the limitations, rather than the uses, of power that separated the Jeffersonian Republicans from the Federalists. “But, if the efficient force or administrative authority be, altogether, unlimited; as if it extends so far as to change the constitution, itself, the government, whatever be its form, is absolute and despotic. …” By Tucker’s definition, the modern federal government, particularly in its judicial branch, qualifies as despotic. For Tucker, as for Calhoun, society, or the “body politic,” takes precedence always over the government, or state. And for Tucker, unlike Lincoln, the people may resume their sovereignty at any time. The discussion is most of all, perhaps, an answer to those Federalists, like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, who emphasized the evils of democracy and the need for it to be restrained. Tucker’s arguments about the failings of “aristocracy” can be seen as a reply to the Federalist philosophers and also perhaps as a prophecy of later times. And Tucker’s long explanation of the characteristics and virtues of “confederate governments,” such as the United States, though strange to modern ears, represents a predominant American understanding of his own time and long after.
The concise manner in which the commentator, has treated of the several forms of government, seems to require that the subject should be somewhat further considered: this has been attempted in the following pages; in the course of which the student will meet with considerable extracts from the writings of Mr. Locke, and other authors, who have copiously treated the subject; of which an epitome, only, is here offered for the use of those who may not possess the means of better information.
A nation or state is a body politic, or a society of men united together to promote their mutual safety, and advantage, by means of their union.
From the very design, that induces them to form a society that has its common interests, and ought to act in concert, it is necessary that there should be established a public authority, to order and direct what ought to be done, by each, in relation to the end of the association.
This political authority, is by some writers denominated the sovereignty;1 but, for reasons which will be hereafter explained, I prefer calling it the government, or administrative authority of the state, to which each citizen, subjects himself by the very act of association, for the purpose of establishing a civil society.
All men being by nature equal, in respect to their rights, no man nor set of men, can have any natural, or inherent right, to rule over the rest.
This right cannot be acquired by conquest, for the few, are, in a state of nature, unable to subdue the many.
Were it ever possible that the few could triumph over the many, the power thus acquired, can not be transmissible by inheritance, since it may fall into hands incapable of maintaining it.
The right of governing can, therefore, be acquired only by, consent, originally; and this consent must be that of at least a majority of the people.2
Since no person possesses any inherent right to govern, or rule over the rest; and since the few cannot possess, naturally power enough to subdue the many; the majority of the people, and, much more the whole body, posses all the powers, which any society, state, or nation, possesses in relation to its own immediate concerns.
This power which every independent state or nation, (however constituted, or by whatever name distinguished, whether it be called an empire, kingdom, or republic and whether the government be in its form a monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, or a mixture or corruption of all them,) possesses in relation to its own immediate concerns, is unlimited, and unlimitable, so long as the nation or state retains its independence; there being no power upon earth, whilst that remains, which can control, or direct the operations, or will, of the state in those respects.
This unlimitable power, is that supreme, irresistible, absolute, uncontrollable authority, which by political writers in general, is denominated the sovereignty; and which is by most of them, supposed to be vested in the government, or administrative authority, of the state: but, which, we contend, resides only in the people; is inherent in them; and unalienable from them.3
Except in very small states, where the government is administered by the people themselves, in person, the exercise of the sovereign power is confined to the establishment of the constitution of the state or the amendments of its defects, or to the correction of the abuses of the government.
The constitution of a state is, properly, that instrument by which the government, or administrative authority of the state, is created: its powers defined, their extent limited; the duties of the public functionaries prescribed; and the principles, according to which the government is to be administered, delineated.4
The government or administrative authority of the state, is that portion only of the sovereignty, which is by the constitution entrusted to the public functionaries: these are the agents and servants of the people.
Legitimate government can therefore be derived only from the voluntary grant of the people, and exercised for their benefit.
The sovereignty, though always potentially existing in the people of every independent nation, or state, is in most of them, usurped by, and confounded with, the government. Hence in England it is said to be vested in the parliament: in France, before the revolution, and still, in Spain, Russia, Turkey and other absolute monarchies, in the crown, or monarch; in Venice, until the late conquest of that state, in the doge, and senate, &c.
As the sovereign power hath no limits to its authority, so hath the government of a state no rights, but such as are purely derivative, and limited; the union of the sovereignty of a state with the government, constitutes a state of usurpation and absolute tyranny, over the people.
In the United States of America the people have retained the sovereignty in their own hands: they have in each state distributed the government, or administrative authority of the state, into two distinct branches, internal, and external; the former of these, they have confided, with some few exceptions, to the state government; the latter to the federal government.
Since the union of the sovereignty with the government, constitutes a state of absolute power, or tyranny, over the people, every attempt to effect such an union is treason against the sovereignty, in the actors; and every extension of the administrative authority beyond its just constitutional limits, is absolutely an act of usurpation in the government, of that sovereignty, which the people have reserved to themselves.
These few preliminary remarks will be somewhat enlarged upon in the sequel.
Government, considered as the administrative authority of a state, or body politic, may, in general, be regarded as coeval with civil society, itself: Since the agreement or contract by which each individual may be supposed to have agreed with all the rest, that they should unite into one society or body, to be governed in all their common interests, by common consent, would probably be immediately followed by the decree, or designation, made by the whole people, of the form or plan of power, which is what we now understand by the constitution of the state; as also of the persons, to whom the administration of those powers should, in the first instance be confided. Considered in this light, government and civil society may be regarded as, generally, inseparable; the one ordinarily resulting from the other: but this is not universally the case: man in a state of nature hath no governor but himself: in savage life, which approaches nearly to that state, government is scarcely perceptible. In the epoch of a national revolution, man is, as it were, again remitted to a state of nature: in this case civil society exists, though the constitution or bond of union be dissolved, and the government or administrative authority of the state be suspended, or annihilated. But this suspension is generally of short duration: and even if an annihilation of the government takes place, it is but momentary: were it otherwise, civil society must perish also.
Even during the suspension, or annihilation of government, the laws of nature and of moral obligation, which are in their nature indissoluble, continue in force in civil society. Hence social rights and obligations, also, are respected, even when there is no government to enforce their observance. This principle, during state convulsions, supplies the absence of regular government: but it cannot long supply its place; government, therefore, either permanent or temporary, results from a state of civilized society.
As the natural end and sole purpose of all civil power is the general good of the whole body, in which the governors, or public functionaries, themselves are necessarily included as a part, so, that civil power alone can be justly assumed, or claimed by any governor, or public functionary, which is delegated to him by the constitution of the state, as necessary, or conducive to the prosperity of the whole body united; what is not so delegated is unjust upon whatever pretence it is assumed. Any contract or consent conveying useless or pernicious powers is invalid, as being founded on an error about the nature of the thing conveyed, and its tendency to the end proposed.5
The most natural method of constituting, or continuing civil power must, since the general use of letters, be some deed, or instrument of convention, between those who set about to establish a civil society or state, to serve as an evidence of their common intentions in forming such an association; to limit the powers which they meant to confer upon their public functionaries, and agents; and to prescribe the mode by which those agents shall be from time to time appointed, and the powers confided to them administered. And if it should happen that time and experience may demonstrate that the people have adopted, or consented to a pernicious plan; whose destructive tendency they have discovered; and now see their error; taking that plan to tend to their good, which they find has the most opposite tendency; they are free from its obligation, and may insist upon a new model of polity.
These speculative notions may be regarded as having received the most solemn sanction in the United States of America; the supreme national council of which hath, on the most important occasion, which hath ever occurred since the first settlement of these states by the present race of men, declared, “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed: that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundations upon such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” Such is the language of that congress which dissolved the union between Great Britain and America. Few are the governments of the world, ancient or modern, whose foundations have been laid upon these principles. Fraud, usurpation, and conquest have been, generally, substituted in their stead.
When a government is founded upon the voluntary consent, and agreement of a people uniting themselves together for their common benefit, the people, or nation, collectively taken, is free, although the administration of the government should happen to be oppressive, and to a certain degree, even tyrannical; since it is in the power of the people to alter, or abolish it, whenever they shall think proper; and to institute such new government as may seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. But if the government be founded in fear, constraint, or force, although the administration should happen to be mild, the people, being deprived of the sovereignty, are reduced to a state of civil slavery. Should the administration, in this case, become tyrannical, they are without redress. Submission, punishment, or a successful revolt, are the only alternatives.
It is easy to perceive that a government originally founded upon consent, and compact, may by gradual usurpations on the part of the public functionaries, change its type, altogether, and become a government of force. In this case, the people are as completely enslaved as if the original foundations of the government had been laid by conquest.
Thus, the nature of a government, so far as respects the freedom of the people, may be considered as depending upon the nature of the bond of their union. If the bond of union be the voluntary consent of the people, the government may be pronounced to be free; where constraint and fear constitute that bond, the government is no longer the government of the people, and consequently they are enslaved.
And, as the nature of the government, whether free, or the reverse, depends upon the nature of the bond of union, whether it be the effect of a voluntary compact, and consent, or of constraint, and compulsion; so the form of any government, depends altogether upon the manner in which the efficient force, and administrative authority of the state is distributed, and administered. But, if the efficient force or administrative authority be, altogether, unlimited; as if it extends so far as to change the constitution, itself, the government, whatever be its form, is absolute and despotic; the people in this case are annihilated. … Their regeneration can only be effected by a revolution.
On the contrary, when the constitution is founded in voluntary compact, and consent, and imposes limits to the efficient force of the government, or administrative authority, the people are still the sovereign; the government is the mere creature of their will; and those who administer it are their agents and servants.
From hence it will appear that the nature of any government does not depend upon the checks and balances which may be provided by the constitution, since they respect the form of the government, only; but it depends upon the nature and extent of those powers which the people have reserved to themselves, as the Sovereign: or rather, upon the extent of those, which they have delegated to the government; or, which the government in the course of its administration may have usurped. An usurped government may be no less a government of checks and balances, than a government founded in voluntary consent and compact: witness the government of England, where the parliament according to the theory of their constitution (and not the people,) is the sovereign. The checks and balances of that Government have been the topic of applause among all those who are opposed alike to the government of the people, or of an absolute monarch. But no people can ever be free, whose government is founded upon the usurpation of their sovereign rights; for by the act of usurpation, the sovereignty is transferred from the people, in whom alone it can legitimately reside, to those who by that act have manifested a determination to oppress them.
“How the several forms of government we now see in the world at first actually began,” says the learned commentator,6 “is matter of great uncertainty, and has occasioned infinite disputes.” The celebrated author of the Rights of Man observes that the origin of all governments may be comprehended under three heads; superstition, power, and the common rights of man. The first were governments of priest-craft, through the medium of oracles; the second being founded in power, the sword assumed the name of a sceptre; the third in compact; each individual in his own personal, and sovereign right entering into the compact, each with the other, to establish a government. A late political writer in England,7 remarks, that all the governments that now exist in the world, except the United States of America, have been fortuitously formed. They are the produce of chance, not the work of art. They have been altered, impaired, improved, and destroyed by accidental circumstances, beyond the foresight, or control of wisdom. Their parts thrown up against present emergencies, form no systematic whole. These fortuitous governments cannot be supposed to derive their existence from the free consent of the people; they are fruits of internal violence and struggles, between parties contending for the sovereignty; or of fraudulent and gradual usurpations of power by those to whom the people have entrusted the administration of the government, or of successful ambition, aided by the operation and influence of standing armies. A democratic government, however organized, must, on the contrary, be founded in general consent and compact, the most natural and the only legitimate method of constituting or continuing civil power, as was observed elsewhere. It is the great, and, I had almost said, the peculiar happiness of the people of the United States, that their constitutions, respectively, rest upon this foundation.
The fundamental regulation that determines the manner in which the public authority is to be executed, is what forms the constitution of the state. In this is seen the form by which the nation acts in quality of a body politic: how, and by whom the people ought to be governed, and what are the laws and duties of the governors.
From this definition of a constitution, given us by Vattel, we might reasonably be led to expect, that in every nation not reduced to the unconditional obedience of a despotic prince, there might be found some traces, at least, of the original compact of society entered into by the people at the first institution of the state. Yet it seems to be the opinion of the learned commentator that such an original compact had perhaps in no instance been expressed in that manner. But it is difficult not to imagine that such an original contract must have been actually entered into, and even formally expressed, in every state where government hath been established upon the principles of democracy. The various revolutions in the ancient states of Greece were often attended with the establishment of that species of government: The original constitution of Venice was a pure democracy; and the constitutions of several of the Swiss cantons partake also, in a great degree, of the same character. Can we conceive such regulations to have been established without being in some degree formally expressed? That the evidences of them have not been handed down to us is not, I apprehend, a sufficient reason for rejecting the opinion that they have had existence. If, therefore, the opinion of the learned commentator be, that there never was an instance in which government had been instituted by voluntary compact, and consent of the people of any state, it would seem that there is room to doubt the correctness of such an opinion. If, on the contrary, the opinion be referred to the primitive act of associating by individuals totally unconnected in society, before, I shall not controvert it any further.
For it is evident that the foundations of the state or body politic of any nation may have been laid for centuries before the existing constitution, or form of government of such state. In England, the foundation of the state (such as it has been from the time of the Heptarchy,) is agreed to have been laid by Alfred. And from that period till the union with Scotland, in the days of Queen Anne, the state remained unchanged: but the government during the same period was incessantly changing. Before the conquest it seems to have resembled a moderate, or limited monarchy. From that period it seems to have been, alternately, an absolute monarchy, a feudal aristocracy, an irregular oligarchy, and a government compounded, as at present, of three different estates, alternately, vieing with each other for the superiority, until it has finally settled in the crown. The foundations of the American States were laid in their respective colonial charters: with the revolution they ceased to be colonies, and became independent and sovereign republics, under a democratic form of government. When they became members of a confederacy, united for their mutual defense against a common enemy, they renounced the exercise of a part of their sovereign rights; and in adopting the present constitution of the United States, they have formed a closer, and more intimate union than before; yet still retaining the character of distinct, sovereign, independent states. In all these permutations of their constitutions or forms of government, the states or body politic of each of the members of the American confederacy, have remained the same, or nearly the same, as before the revolution.
Thus, as has been already mentioned, society may not only exist, though government be dissolved; but the state, or body politic, may remain the same, whilst the government is changeable. Whenever the form of government is fixed, the constitution of the state is said to be established; and this, as has been observed before, may be effected either by fraud, or by force; or by a temporary compromise between contending parties; or, by the general, and voluntary consent of the people. In the two first cases, the constitution is merely constructive, according to the will and pleasure of those who have usurped, and continue to exercise the supreme power. In the third case likewise, it is in general, merely constructive; each party contending for whatever power it hath not expressly yielded up to the other; or which it thinks it hath power to resume, or to secure to itself. Where the constitution is established by voluntary, and general consent, the people, and the public functionaries employed by them to administer the government, may be apprised of their several, and respective rights and duties; and the same voluntary, and general consent is equally necessary to every change in the constitution, as to its original establishment. The constitution may indeed provide a mode within itself for its amendment; but this very provision is founded in the previous consent of the people, that such a mode shall supercede the necessity of an immediate presumption of, the sovereign power, into their own hands, for the purpose of amending the constitution; but if the government has any agency in proposing, or establishing amendments, whenever that becomes corrupt, the people will probably find the necessity of a resumption of the sovereignty, in order to correct the abuses, and vices of the government.
And herein, I apprehend, consists the only distinction between limited and unlimited governments. If the constitution be founded upon the previous act of the people, the government is limited. If it have any other foundation, it is merely constructive, and the government arrogates to itself the sole right of making such a construction of it, as may suit with its own views, designs, and interests: and when this right can be successfully exercised, the government becomes absolute and despotic. In like manner, if in a limited government the public functionaries exceed the limits which the constitution prescribes to their powers, every such act is an act of usurpation in the government, and, as such, treason against the sovereignty of the people, which is thus endeavored to be subverted, and transferred to the usurpers.
Inseparably connected with this distinction between limited and unlimited governments, is the responsibility of the public functionaries, and the want of such responsibility. Every delegated authority implies a trust; responsibility follows as the shadow does its substance. But where there is no responsibility, authority is no longer a trust, but an act of usurpation. And every act of usurpation is either an act of treason, or an act of warfare.
Legitimate government, then, can be established only by the voluntary consent of the society, who by mutual compact with each other grant certain specified powers, to such agents as they may from time to time choose to administer the government thus established, and their agents are responsible to the society for the manner in which they may discharge the trust delegated to them. The instrument by which the government is thus established, and the powers, or more properly the duties, of the public functionaries and agents, are defined and limited, is the visible constitution of the state. For it has been well observed by the author of the Rights of Man, “that a constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and whenever it cannot be produced in a visible form there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government, and a government, is only the creature of a constitution. It is not the act of the government but of the people constituting the government. It is the body of elements to which you can refer, and quote article by article; and which contains the principles on which the government shall be established, the manner in which it shall be organized; the powers it shall have; the mode of elections; the duration of the legislative body, &c.” Hence every attempt in any government to change the constitution (otherwise than in that mode which the constitution may prescribe) is in fact a subversion of the foundations of its own authority.
The acquiescence of the people of a state under any usurped authority for any length of time, can never deprive them of the right of resuming the sovereign power into their own hands, whenever they think fit, or are able to do so, since that right is perfectly unalienable. Nor can it be supposed with any shadow of reason, that in a government established by the authority of the people, it could ever be their intention to deprive themselves of the means of correcting any defects which experience may point out or of applying a remedy to abuses which unfaithful agents may practice to their injury. The sovereign power therefore always resides ultimately, and in contemplation, in the people, whatever be the form of the government: yet the practical exercise of the sovereignty is almost universally usurped by those who administer the government, whatever may have been its original foundation.
It is the proper object of a written constitution not only to restrain the several branches of the government, viz. the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments, within their proper limits, respectively, but to prohibit the branches, united, from any attempt to invade that portion of the sovereign power which the people have not delegated to their public functionaries and agents, but have reserved, unalienably, to themselves.
A written constitution has moreover the peculiar advantage of serving as a beacon to apprise the people when their rights and liberties are invaded, or in danger.
It has been before remarked, that the constitutions of the several United States of America, rest upon the ground of general consent, and compact, between the individuals of each state respectively. To this it may be added, that in every state in the union (Connecticut and Rhode Island excepted) their constitutions have been formally expressed in a visible form, or writing, and have been established by the suffrages of the people, in that form, since the revolution.
The federal government of the United States rests likewise upon a similar foundation; the free consent and suffrages of the people of the several states, separately, and independently taken, and expressed.
It is therefore a fundamental principle in all the American States, which cannot be impugned, or shaken; that their governments have been instituted by the common consent, and for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, in whom all power is vested, and from whom it is derived: that their magistrates, are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them; and that when any government shall be found inadequate, or contrary, to the purposes of its institution, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
Political writers in general seem to be agreed that the several forms of government, which now exist, may be reduced to three; viz. first the democratic; or that in which the body of the nation keeps in its own hands the right of commanding: secondly, the aristocratic; or that in which that right is referred to, or usurped by, a certain number of citizens, independent of the concurrence or consent of the remainder; and thirdly, that in which the administration of the affairs of the state is vested in a single person, which is denominated a monarchy. … These three kinds may be variously combined, and united, and when so combined and united they obtain the general appellation of mixed governments; and sometimes of limited governments. Thus the Roman commonwealth, after the establishment of the tribunes of the people, contained a mixture of democracy, with aristocracy: the former being vested in the assemblies of the people; the latter in the senate: thus, also, the government of Great Britain, in which there is supposed to be a portion of all three of these forms, is not infrequently styled a limited monarchy.
When the body of the people in a state keeps in its own hands the supreme power, or right of ordering all things relative to the public concerns of the state, this, as was before observed, is a democracy. And, in such a state, says Montesquieu, the people ought to do for themselves, whatever they conveniently can; and what they can not well do, themselves, they should commit to the management of ministers chosen by themselves.
A democracy, therefore, may be either a pure and simple government, in which every member of the state assists in the administration of the public affairs, in person; or, it may be representative, in which the people perform that by their agents, or representatives, to the performance of which in person, either insurmountable obstacles, or very great inconveniences, are continually opposed.
1. A simple democracy must necessarily be confined to a very small extent of territory: for if it be the duty of every citizen to attend the public deliberations and councils; to make laws; to administer justice; to consult and provide for the protection and security of the state against foreign enemies; or to compose domestic factions and strife; this will be impracticable if the territory of the state be extensive; and, moreover, the important business of agriculture, every species of industry, and the necessary attention to the domestic concerns of each individual must be neglected; and where this continues to be the case for any considerable length of time, the state must inevitably perish.
Where the limits of a state are so confined as that the people can assemble as often as may be requisite, for the administration of the public concerns from every part of the state, such state must have too small a population to protect itself against the hostile designs and attacks of powerful, or ambitious neighbors; or, too small a territory to support the number of its inhabitants; either of which circumstances must continually endanger its safety and independence.
A pure democracy seems, therefore, to be compatible only with the first rudiments of society, and civil government; or with the circumstances and situation of a people detached from the rest of the world; as the inhabitants of St. Marino, in Italy, are said to be, by the inaccessible cliffs of the mountain, whose, summit they inhabit. And it may be doubted (for reasons that will hereafter be mentioned), whether there ever has been such a form of civil government established among civilized nations. Perhaps nothing can be found so nearly approaching to it, as in the history of the Aborigines of this continent, as given us by the author of the history of Vermont.8 The form and manner of the Indian government, as that historian informs us, was the most simple that can be contrived or imagined. … There was no king, nobility, lords, or house of representatives, among them. The whole tribe assembled together in their public councils: their most aged men were the depositaries of what may be gathered from experience, observation, and a knowledge of their former transactions. By them their debates and consultations were chiefly carried on. Their councils were slow, solemn and deliberate, every circumstance that could be foreseen was taken into consideration. The whole was a scene of consultation and advice. And the advice had no other force or authority, than what it derived from its supposed wisdom, fitness and propriety.
The strength, or power of the government, adds this author, is placed wholly in the public sentiment. The chief has no authority to enforce his counsels, or compel obedience to his measures. He is fed and clothed like the rest of the tribe; his house and furniture is the same as that of others; there is no appearance or mark of distinction; no ceremony, or form of induction into office; no ensigns or tokens of superiority, or power. In every external circumstance, the chiefs are upon a level with the rest of the tribe; and that only which gives weight and authority to their advice, is the public opinion of their superior wisdom and experience. Their laws stand upon the same foundation. There was no written law, record, or rule of conduct. … No public precedent, established courts, forms or modes of proceeding. The causes and occasions of contentions were few, and they did not much affect the tribe. And when the chiefs interposed in the concerns of individuals, it was not to compel but only to counsel and advise them. The public opinion pointed out what was right; and an offender who had been deeply guilty fled from the tribe, &c.
Were we not (after the example of the ancient Greeks and Romans) in the habit of considering all those nations who are not seduced by the allurements of polished life, as barbarians, and savages, should we not esteem this picture of society, as the dream of a poet, describing the golden age, rather than a just representation of the actual state of a people, whom we despise for their ignorance; and of mankind, in those situations where the poisonous effects of artificial refinement have not yet manifested themselves.
And here it may not be amiss to mention another objection that is frequently made to a democratic government; because, if such an objection exists, it can only apply to such an one as we have just described. It is this; that all power being concentrated in the people, whenever the whole people assemble to deliberate upon any matter, there lies no appeal from their decision, however hasty or ill-advised it may be, there being no law, nor constitution to limit or control their determinations. Consequently they may revoke today, what they established yesterday; and tomorrow, may adopt a new rule, different from either, which, in its turn, may be again superceded the day after. Hence, a perpetual fluctuation of councils is inseparable from a pure democracy.
Another objection, which is also frequently urged against this species of government is, that it is, more than any other, subject to be agitated by violent commotions excited by turbulent and factious men, who aim at grasping all the power of the state into their own hands and sacrifice every obstacle to the attainment of their nefarious ends.
As the first of these objections applies only to a pure, or simple democracy, such as has been above described, it may be time enough to answer it, when we find ourselves in danger of falling into such a form of government. But I am inclined to suppose, that the objection would be altogether without force, where the state of society among those about to establish a new form of government may happen to be such, as that no other inconvenience, (which might be apprehended from such a form of government) should constitute an objection to its adoption. For where there is such a separation from the rest of the world, and such a simplicity of manners, united to the existence of a very small society, as to recommend the adoption of a government perfectly, and simply, democratic, we may venture to affirm that no very great inconvenience need be apprehended from instability of counsels. And with regard to the evils to be apprehended from violent commotions, we shall hereafter see, that they mark the period when the democracy is subverted, or in imminent danger of it, rather than that in which it flourishes: and such commotions are equally incident to other governments during the period of their decline, as to democracies; and in such governments they are likewise more violent, and more fatal.
2. But all the disadvantages of a pure, or simple democracy, such as we have hitherto been speaking of, may, I apprehend, be effectually guarded against, by one that is representative: that is, in which the people administer the government by means of their agents, or representatives, chosen from time to time by themselves, and removable from the trust reposed in them whenever they cease to possess the public confidence, in their wisdom, integrity, or patriotism.9
It is not necessary that the limits of a representative democracy should be so confined, as to expose it to the danger of famine on the one hand, or to the incursions and attacks of powerful and ambitious nations on the other; no interruption need be given to agriculture and other necessary occupations; the constitution of the state may be permanently fixed, by the people, and the duties and functions of their representatives and agents so distributed and limited, as that the laws of the state, and not the versatile will of a giddy multitude shall always prevail.
Governments, says an American writer, may be variously modified on the democratic principle. That which possesses the most energy, and at the same time best guards its principles, is the most perfect. A democratic government ought to have the most perfect energy; because there can be no excuse for disobedience to an authority which is delegated by the community at large, and only held during pleasure. But in communicating energy without gradual and cautious experiment, there is danger of communicating with it, the power of fencing in the government, and changing its principles. This was the danger apprehended by many, at the time of adopting the present federal constitution. Nor was it a groundless apprehension, says the writer, to whom I am indebted for these remarks. The democratic principle being at that time, as it were, forlorn, destitute, and despised by the world, was in danger of being laughed out of countenance even in this country, and of being banished from it as a thing of too mean an origin to be admitted into polished societies.10
I repeat it says the same writer, that a democratic government ought to possess the most perfect energy; without which, true freedom, and the real and essential rights of man, are without protection. Many maxims taken from other governments are inapplicable to ours, and therefore with respect to us, are erroneous. All monarchies, however modified, are governments of usurpation, or prescription. In the exercise of their authority, the interest and pleasure of the governing party are more considered, than the general welfare: of course, the more energetic such authority is, the greater is the oppression felt from it. In governments by compact, where, of course, the authority is legitimate, and exercised for the general good, the reverse is true. Energy in such a government, is the best support that freedom can desire; and freedom is more perfect in proportion to the degree of energy. … If the laws of a democracy prove unwholesome in their effects, it is because the members of the legislature have erred in their judgment, as the best and wisest men are liable to do; in which case, they will soon correct the error; or because they have been improperly chosen, in which case, it depends on the people to correct it, at the next election. In a democracy a legislator, as well as every other public functionary, is responsible to the community for the uprightness of this conduct. If he concurs in an unconstitutional act, he is guilty of usurpation, and contempt of the sovereign authority, which has forbidden him to pass the bounds prescribed by the constitution. He has violated his oath, and the most sacred of all duties. To omit him at the next election is not an adequate punishment for such a crime. Abuse of power is despotism, and the democracy that does not guard against it, is defective. If in any department of government, a man may abuse, or exceed his powers, without fear of punishment, the right of one man is at the mercy of another, and freedom in such a government, has no existence.
It is indispensably necessary to the very existence of this species of democracy, that there be a perfect equality of rights among the citizens, the unqualified use of the term equality has furnished the enemies of democracy with a pretext to charge it with the most destructive principles. By equality, in a democracy, is to be understood, equality of civil rights, and not of condition. Equality of rights necessarily produces inequality of possessions; because, by the laws of nature and of equality, every man has a right to use his faculties in an honest way, and the fruits of his labor, thus acquired, are his own. But some men have more strength than others; some more health; some more industry; and some more skill and ingenuity, than others; and according to these, and other circumstances the products of their labor must be various, and their property must become unequal. The rights of property must be sacred, and must be protected; otherwise there could be no exertion of either ingenuity or industry, and consequently nothing but extreme poverty, misery, and brutal ignorance.
It is further indispensably necessary to the very existence of this species of democracy, that the agents of the people be chosen by themselves; that in this choice, the most inflexible integrity, be regarded as an indispensible constituent; and where that is found, it is but reasonable to be satisfied with something beyond mediocrity, in other qualities. A sound judgment united with an unfeigned zeal for the public weal, will be more certain of promoting and procuring it, than the most brilliant talents which have not the foundation of integrity for their support, and the stimulus of an active zeal for the public good, for its advancement. Besides, if none but men of the first talents were to be employed as public agents, even where no superiority of talents may be required, such a circumstance would inevitably discourage modest merit from offering its services, or accepting an offer of the public confidence, on any occasion: and such a discouragement would soon operate to substitute the glare of superficial talents, for the solid worth of integrity, sound judgment, and love of the public weal.
In this species of democracy, it is further indispensably necessary to its preservation, that the constitution be fixed, that the duties of the public functionaries be defined, and limited, both as to their objects, and their duration; and that they should be at all times responsible to the people for their conduct. The constitution, being the act of the people, and the compact, according to which they have agreed with each other, that the government which they have established shall be administered, is a law to the government, and a sacred reverence, for it is an indispensible requisite in the character and conduct of every public agent. A profound obedience to the laws, and due submission to the magistrate entrusted with their execution, is equally indispensible on the part of every citizen of the commonwealth, in order to preserve the principles of this government from corruption. Neglect of the principles of the constitution by the public functionary is a substitution of aristocracy, for a representative democracy: such a person no longer regards himself as the trustee, and agent of the people, but as a ruler whose authority is independent of the people, to whom he holds himself in no manner accountable; and he so degenerates into an usurper and a tyrant. On the other hand, when any individual can with impunity defy the magistrate, or disregard the laws, the sinews of the government are destroyed, and the government itself is annihilated. As distant as heaven is from earth, says Montesquieu, is the true spirit of equality from that of extreme equality. The former does not consist in managing so that every body should command, or that no one should be commanded; but in obeying and commanding our equals.
The constitution of Athens, as established by Solon, was in some measure representative; there was a senate, consisting of five hundred deputies who were annually elected; so were the archons, and other magistrates of the republic. But the whole body of the people likewise assembled, both ordinarily, on stated days, and also on extraordinary occasions. By the constitution it proved that the people should ratify or reject all the decrees of the senate; but should make no decree which had not first passed the senate. This regulation in process of time was so far disregarded, as, the amendments to the decrees of the senate were at first proposed; which being acquiesced in, other decrees, afterwards, were substituted in stead of those of the senate. This innovation in the constitution changed the nature of the government entirely, and introduced all the mischiefs of faction, corruption, and anarchy; the people delivered themselves over to the influence of their vicious and corrupt orators, and intriguing demagogues; and the event finally proved that the smallest innovations are capable of subverting the constitution of a state.
Thus while a democracy may be pronounced to be the only legitimate government, and that form of government, alone which is compatible with the freedom of the nation, and the happiness of the individual, we may perceive that it is on every side surrounded by enemies, ready to sap the foundation, convulse the frame, and totally destroy the fabric. In such a government a sacred veneration for the principles of the constitution, a perfect obedience to the laws, an unremitting vigilance on the part of the people over the conduct of their agents, and the strictest attention to the morals and principles of such as they elect into every office, legislative, executive, or judiciary, seem indispensably necessary to constitute, and to preserve a sufficient barrier against its numerous foes.
The enemies of a democratic government fail not on all occasions to magnify, and to multiply, at the same time, all the disadvantages of this species of government, just as some curious opticians have contrived lenses, which represent the same object, magnified, in an hundred different places, at once. They are ready to mention on all occasions the tumults at Athens, and at Rome (which last was in no sense whatever a democracy,) and they repeat the banishment of Aristides, the imprisonment and fine of Miltiades, and the death of Socrates, with so much indignation, that one might almost suppose they were the only examples to be found in history, where virtuous men had ever been oppressed by a government; or where cruelty had ever been exercised towards the innocent. But cruelty and even violence in a republic, are very different in their effects from cruelty, or violence in a monarch. In a republic ten thousand people, or the whole state, combine to oppress one man: in the other case, one individual inflicts torture upon a whole nation, or the whole human race. Not to mention the tyrants who have deluged their territories with the blood of their own subjects, and whose names are held in detestation by the whole human race. Alexander of Macedon, the favorite of historians, both ancient and modern, crucified two thousand Tyrians round the walls of their city, because they would not submit to him as a conqueror, but offered to receive him as a friend, and ally; and the same abominable tragedy was afterwards repeated by him at Gaza.11 In the scale of good and evil, is it better that a whole nation should be sometimes unjust, and even cruel, to a Socrates, or a Miltiades, or that one man should possess the power of tyrannizing over the whole human race?
But in America, such scenes of violence, tumult, and commotion, as convulsed and finally destroyed the republics of Athens and Rome, can never be apprehended, whilst we remain, as at present, an agricultural people, dispersed over an immense territory, equal to the support of more than ten times our present population. Nothing can be more inconsistent with the habits and interest of the farmer and the husbandman, than frequent and numerous assemblies of the people. In a country, whose population does not amount to one able bodied militia man for each mile square, would it not be absurdity in the extreme, to pretend, that the same dangers are to be apprehended, as in those ancient cities; or in the modern capitals of France, or England, whose inhabitants, respectively, may be estimated as equal to the population of the largest state in the American confederacy? Or can we expect the same readiness in an independent yeomanry to excite, or to favor popular commotions, as in the Athenian populace, hired by their demagogues to attend the public meetings; or bribed, like the degenerate citizens of Rome, when they contented themselves with demanding from their rulers, bread, and the exhibition of public games, as all they required? Those who pretend to draw any parallel between those ancient republics, and the American states, must either be totally ignorant, or guilty of wilful misrepresentation. Attica was a small but an immensely populous state: the people had arrived at the summit of luxurious refinement, indolence, and corruption. The public orators were often secretly in the pay of the factious demagogues contending for preeminence within the state; or, of its enemies without. The delusions of eloquence were constantly, and successfully employed to beguile an enervated and infatuated people to their destruction. The multitude were on all occasions agitated by the breath of their orators as the waves of the sea by the wind. The Roman metropolis, on the other hand, was a military city in which every citizen was a soldier, and a sovereign, for Rome was not the head of the republic, but the mistress of the empire, and of the globe. Her citizens may be regarded as the lords of the human race, in the forum they tyrannized over the rest of the world, and in the campus martius, over each other. A Martius, a Scylla, an Anthony, and an Octavius, were by turns their idols, and their scourges. Who can perceive the most distant resemblance between either of these republics; and, the states of New England, of Pennsylvania, of the Carolina’s, or Virginia? Who will venture to compare those of Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, or Tennessee, to them. But the improvements which the representative system has received in America, will I trust prove an effectual guard against those scenes of violence, which have stained the annals of the ancient republics, without weakening, or in any degree impairing the public, force, and energy, on the one hand, or endangering the liberties of the people, on the other; this leads us to a short digression concerning:
The analysis and separation of the several powers of government, which if not a discovery reserved for the eighteenth century, bids fair to be practically understood, more perfectly than in earlier times. It consists in the just distribution, of the several distinct functions, and duties, of the public agents, according to their respective natures.
The essential parts of civil power may not improperly be divided into the internal, or such as are to be exercised among the citizens of a state, within the state itself; and the external, or such as may be exercised towards foreign nations, or different and independent states: the design of civil government being, both to promote peace and happiness with an undisturbed enjoyment of all their rights, to the citizens of the state, by good order at home, and to defend the whole body, and all its members from any foreign injuries; and to procure them any advantages that may be obtained by a prudent conduct towards foreigners. These powers, which in all great empires, and monarchies, and even in smaller states, are generally united in one and the same man, or body of men, according to the system adopted by the states of the American confederacy, are, as was before observed, separated from each other; the former branch, being with some exceptions, confided to the state-governments; the latter to the federal government.
The former branch of these powers, or that which is to be exercised within the state, are, shortly, these. First, the power of directing the actions of the citizens by laws requiring whatever is requisite for this end, and prohibiting the contrary by penalties: determining and limiting more precisely the several rights of men, appointing the proper methods for securing, transferring, or conveying them, as the general interest may require, and even limiting their use of them, in certain cases, for the same general purpose. Secondly, another power of the same class is that of appointing in what manner, and what proportion each one shall contribute towards the public expenses out of his private fortune, or private gains, by paying taxes, as the state of the people will admit. These two branches of power are commonly called legislative; and in this state, and I believe in every other in the union, they are confided to two distinct bodies of men chosen at stated periods by the people themselves, one of which is called the house of delegates, or representatives, the other the senate; the first being generally vested with the initiative authority, or right of commencing all laws; the other, that of amending, ratifying, or rejecting. Both bodies being absolutely independent of each other.
The power of jurisdiction in all cases of controversy between the citizens of the state about their rights, by applying the general laws to them; and of trying, and enforcing the penalties of the laws, against all such as are guilty of crime which disturb the public peace and tranquility, constitutes the second subordinate branch of those powers which are to be exercised within the state and this power is vested, partly in persons selected for their superior knowledge of the laws of the states, whose province is to pronounce what the law is in each particular case, and who hold their office during good behavior, who are styled judges; and partly by persons indifferently chosen on the spot, to decide upon the matters of fact which are disputed in each case, who are denominated juries; being sworn well and truly to decide between the parties. And without their unanimous verdict, or consent, no person can be condemned of any crime. This is commonly called the judiciary department. And in this state no person can be at the same time a legislator, and a judge, or a member of the executive department of the government, of which it now remains to speak.
The power of appointing inferior magistrates (that of appointing the judges of the superior courts being by the constitution of this state vested in the legislature) and ministerial officers to take care of the execution both of the ordinary laws, and of the special orders of the state, given by the proper departments, and of collecting the public revenue; paying the public creditors, defraying the public charges; and commanding, and directing the public force, pursuant to the law and constitution of the state, is ordinarily called the executive department: and in this state, this subordinate branch of internal powers, is confided to the discretion of another distinct body, composed of the governor, and the executive council, or council of state; by whose advice the governor administers the executive functions according to the laws of the commonwealth.
The external powers, or such as are to be exercised towards foreign, or other independent states, are these two; the first that of making war for defense of the state, and for this purpose arming and training the citizens to military service; and appointing proper officers to conduct them; erecting necessary fortifications; and establishing a naval force: And the second, that of making treaties, whether such as fix the terms of peace after a war, or such as may procure aliens or confederates to assist in it, or such as without any view to war may procure, or confirm to a state and its citizens any other advantages by commerce, hospitality, or improvements in arts; and for this purpose the power and right of sending ambassadors, or deputies to concert such treaties with those of other nations. … To which we may add, thirdly, the power of deciding amicably any controversies which may possibly arise between different states, members of the same confederacy; all of which powers some authors include under one general name, viz. the federative; and all these, and some others of pretty extensive operation are vested in the federal government of the United States. The first appertain generally to the congress, composed like the state legislature, of two bodies, the one chosen by the people; the other appointed by the state legislatures. The second subordinate class belongs to the executive department, or president of the United States, assisted with the advice and consent of the senate. The third subordinate branch appertains to the federal judiciary; the judges of which, like those of the state, hold their offices during good behavior, though differently appointed, viz. by the president and senate, instead of the legislative body as in this state.
Power thus divided, subdivided, and distributed into so many separate channels, can scarcely ever produce the same violent and destructive effects, as where it rushes down in one single torrent, overwhelming and sweeping away whatever it encounters in its passage.
This analysis and separation is perfectly impracticable in a simple democracy, and is equally irreconcilable to the principles of monarchy; for in both these the sovereign power seems to be indivisible, and exerts itself every where, and on all occasions: In the former, the people being at once legislator, judge, and executive magistrate, and acted upon by the same impulse, they may at the same time make a law, and condemn the previous violation of it; and, as in the case of Socrates, in the same moment wreak their vengeance on the victim of their fury. But no such case can happen in an extensive confederacy, composed of states possessing respectively a representative form of government and in which the constitution is fixed, the limits of power are defined and ascertained, and uniform laws, and modes of proceeding are prescribed to be observed in every case; according to its nature before it occurs.
Thus the sovereignty of the people, and the responsibility of their representative democracy, however, organized, or in other words, however the several powers of government may be distributed, or by whomsoever they may be exercised, the censorial power of the people, which is in effect a branch of the sovereign power itself, may be immediately exercised upon that representative or agent who forgets his responsibility. It is this powerful control, which without resumption of the sovereign power into the hands of the people, as is sometimes necessary for the reformation of the constitution, preserves the several branches of the government within their due limits; for the people where they are as vigilant, and attentive to their rights as they ought to be, will be sure to take part against those who would usurp either the rights of the people, or the proper functions of a different agent; and, thus by their weight restore the constitutional balance. On the other hand, where such vigilance and attention to their just rights is wanting on the part of the people, the progress of usurpation is often as little perceived as that of a star, rising in the east whilst the sun is in the meridian. It reaches the zenith before the departure of day discovers its ascent. But whenever there is a due vigilance on the part of the people, not only the errors or vices of the administration, but any defects in the fundamental principles of the government are more readily discovered in a representative democracy, than in any other form of government. This sometimes produces parties; but they are never violent until a general spirit of encroachment, or of corruption, is discovered to exist in the public functionaries and agents; then indeed more violent parties arise, and such as may endanger the public happiness. But they are engendered, and fostered by the government, and not as is falsely supposed, by the people. The latter are always more disposed to submission, than to encroachment, and often distrust their own judgments rather than suspect the integrity of their representative, or agent: a delusion from which they seldom recover until it’s almost too late.
If any possible device can ensure happiness to the state, and security to the individual, it must be the establishment of this important principle of responsibility in the public agents; and its union with that other important principle, the separation and division of the powers of the government. Bold and desperate must that representative be who dares openly to violate his duty, when he knows himself amenable to the people for such a breach of trust. And wicked and corrupt must be that administration, all the parts of which unite in one conspiracy against the peace and happiness of the people collectively, and the security of every individual of the community.
The limitation of power; the frequency of elections, by the body of the people; the capacity of every individual citizen to be elected to any public office, to which his talents and integrity may recommend him, and the responsibility of every public agent to his constituents, the people, are the distinguishing features of a representative democracy; and whilst the people preserve a proper sense of the value of such a form of government, will effectually guard it against the snares, intrigues, and encroachments of its counterfeit, and most dangerous enemy, aristocracy; of which we shall now proceed to speak.
An aristocracy is that form of government in which the supreme power is vested in a small number of persons. It may be absolute, or limited; absolute, where it is not founded in the consent and compact of the society, over which the government is established; or limited, where that consent has been given, and the constitution and its powers have been fixed, and limited, at the time of such consent; but in which the other important characters of a representative democracy have not been preserved. It may likewise be temporary; as where the members of the supreme council, or senate sit there only for a certain term and then retire to their former condition; or perpetual, during their lives. It may likewise be hereditary; where the representatives of certain families (distinguished by the flattering epithet of the well-born,) are senators by birth, or elective, where either at certain periods the whole senate is chosen, and vacancies are supplied by election. And this election may be either popular as where the body of the people choose the person whom they may think proper to advance to the senatorial dignity; which is also called creation, where the person so chosen is advanced from the plebeian to the senatorial order: or it may be made by the whole senatorial order, from among themselves; or by the senate itself, out of the members of the senatorial order in which case it has been styled co-optation: or by the senate itself out of the order of plebeians; in which case as in one before mentioned, it obtains the name of creation.
This form of government is capable of such an approximation, and resemblance, in its external form, to a representative democracy that the one is frequently mistaken for the other. The discriminating features of a representative democracy, as we have before observed, are the limitation of power; the frequency of elections, by the whole body of the people; the capacity of every citizen of the state to be elected to any public office, to which his talents and integrity may recommend him; and the responsibility of the public agent to the people, for his conduct. If all, or either of these characters be wanting in the constitution of the state, it is an aristocracy, though it should be founded upon the consent of the people, if either of these characters be wanting in the mode of administering the government, it then becomes an aristocracy founded upon fraud and usurpation. Seldom has such a government failed to spring up, from the immediate ruins of monarchy: never, perhaps, has it hitherto failed to undermine and subvert a government founded on the principles of a democracy. There is not in nature a spirit more subtle than aristocracy; nothing more unconfinable; nothing whose operations are more constant, more imperceptible, or more certain of success; nothing less apt to alarm in infancy; nothing more terrible at maturity.
In aristocracies where the whole power is lodged in a senate, or council of men of eminent stations or fortunes, one may sometimes expect sufficient wisdom and political abilities to discern and accomplish whatever the interest of the state may require. But there is no security against factions, seditions, and civil wars; much less can this form secure fidelity to the public interest. The views of a corrupt senate will be the aggrandizing of themselves, their families, and their posterity, by all oppressions of the people. In hereditary senates these evils are certain; and the majority of such bodies may even want a competent share of talents to discharge the duties of their stations. Among men born in high stations of wealth and power, ambition, vanity, insolence, and an unsociable contempt of the lower orders, as if they were not of the same species, or were not fellow-citizens with them, too frequently prevail. And these high stations afford many occasions of corruption, by sloth, luxury, and debauchery, the general fore-runners and attendants of the barest venality. An unmixed hereditary aristocracy, if not the worst, must be among the very worst forms of government, since it engenders every species of evil in a government, without producing any countervailing benefit, or advantage.
In a council of senators elected for life, by the people, or by any popular interest, there is more reason to expect both wisdom and fidelity, than in the case of an hereditary aristocracy: but here the cogent tie of responsibility is wanting; and without that, the ambitious views of enlarging their powers, and their wealth, will supercede all ideas of gratitude, or fidelity to those to whom they owe their elevation.
When new members are admitted into the senatorial order by an election, in which the right of suffrage is confined to such as have already obtained an admission into that order; or where the right of admission into the senate itself is vested in that body; the senate will infallibly become a dangerous cabal, (Without any of the advantages desirable in civil polity,) and attempt to make their office hereditary. When senators are entitled to the privileges of that station in consequence of possessing a certain degree of wealth, the burdens of the state will, without exception, be, thrown upon the poorer classes of the people. Thus aristocracy, whatever foundation it may be raised upon, will always prove a most iniquitous and oppressive form of government.
In absolute monarchies, and in perfect democracies, the seeds of aristocracy are contained in wealth; but they do not germinate so long as these governments remain unmixed: for power is not attached to riches in the former, they being hidden from the sight there, least they should tempt the grasp of the sovereign: in the latter, they minister to domestic luxury, or furnish the means of secret, corruption only. The moment that wealth becomes influential, the principle of democracy is corrupted; when it is allied with power, the democracy itself is subverted; when this alliance becomes hereditary in any state, the democratic principle may be regarded as annihilated.
But the most easy and successful mode in which an aristocracy commences, or advances, consists in the secret and gradual abuse of the confidence of the people, in a representative democracy. Slight, and sometimes even imperceptible, innovations, occasional usurpations, founded upon the pretended emergency of the occasion: or upon former unconstitutional precedents; the introduction of the doctrines of constructive grants of power: of the duty of self-preservation in a government, however constituted, or however limited; of the right of eminent domain, (or in other words, absolute power,) in all governments; these, with the stale pretence of the dangers to be apprehended from the giddy multitude in democratic governments, and a thousand other pretexts and arguments of the same stamp, form the ladder by which the agents of the people mount over the heads of their constituents, and finally ascend to that pinnacle of authority and power, from whence they behold those who have raised them with contempt, and treat them with indignation and insult. The only preventive lies in the vigilance of the people. Where the people are too numerous, or too much dispersed to deliberate upon the conduct of their public agents, or too supine to watch over that conduct, the representative will soon render himself paramount to, and independent of, his constituents; and then the people may bid a long farewell to all their happiness.
The first form of government established at Venice, was founded upon principles perfectly democratic. Magistrates were chosen by a general assembly of the people; and their power continued only for one year. This simple form of government (we are told by Doctor Moore,12 whose inquiries and researches upon this subject afford an useful, and an awful lesson to all democratic states;) remained uncorrupted for one hundred and fifty years. Upwards of three hundred years were afterwards employed in gradual, and almost imperceptible changes in the government, and encroachments upon the rights of the people, before that system of terror, which finally rendered the Venetian government the most tyrannical and formidable to its own citizens that the world has ever known, was completed by the establishment of the state inquisition. From that period the most complete despotism hath with unremitting rigor been exerted not only over the actions, but over the minds, of every citizen of that miserable state. A word, a look, nay silence itself, may be interpreted to be treasonable, in a government whose maxim is, “that it is better that an innocent person should suffer from an ill grounded suspicion, than the government should be endangered by any scrutiny into its conduct.”
Should it be inquired how such important changes can possibly be effected where the supreme power is vested in the people, as in the American States, we may give the answer in the words of De Lolme.13 The combination of those who share either in the actual exercise of the public power, or in its advantages, do not allow themselves to sit down in inaction. They wake, while the people sleep. Entirely taken up with the thoughts of their own power, they live but to increase it. Deeply versed in the management of public business, they see at once all the possible consequences of measures. And, as they have the exclusive direction of the springs of government, they give rise, at pleasure, to every incident that may influence the minds of a multitude who are not on their guard; ever active in turning to their advantage every circumstance that happens, they equally avail themselves of the tractableness of the people during public calamities, and its heedlessness in times of prosperity. By presenting in their speeches arguments and facts, which there is no opportunity of examining, they lead the people into gross, and yet decisive errors. In confirmation of these observations he cites two instances from the history of his own country, which have occurred within the present century; and which may serve to show how slight a movement of the political machine, may effect a total change in its operations. In Geneva in the year 1707 a law was enacted that a general assembly of the people, should be held every five years to treat of the affairs of the republic, but the magistrates who dreaded those assemblies soon obtained from the citizens themselves, the repeal of the law; and the first resolution of the people, in the first of these periodical assemblies, in the year 1712, was to abolish them forever. The profound secrecy with which the magistrates prepared their proposals to the citizens on that subject, and the sudden manner in which the latter, when assembled, were acquainted with it, and made to give their votes upon it; and the consternation of the people when the result was proclaimed has confirmed many in the opinion that some unfair means were used. The whole transaction has been kept secret to this day: but the common opinion is, that the magistrates had privately instructed the secretaries in whose ear the citizens were to whisper their suffrages; when a citizen said “approbation,” he was to be considered as approving the proposal of the magistrates; when he said “rejection,” it was to be considered that he meant to reject the periodical assemblies. … In the year 1738 the citizens enacted at once into laws a small code of forty-four articles, by one single line of which they bound themselves forever to elect the four syndicts, or chiefs of the council of twenty-five out of the members of the same council; whereas they were before free in their choice. They, at that time, suffered the word approved to be slipped into a law; the consequence of which was to render the magistrates absolute masters of the legislature. So watchful, so active, so preserving, so noxious, so incompatible with the principles of a democratic government, are those of aristocracy, that we may venture to pronounce it the most dangerous enemy to a free government. If a single germ of aristocracy, be once ingrafted upon a republican government, the stock will soon cease to bear any other branches. In an aristocracy, says Montesquieu, the republic is in the body of the nobles; and the people are nothing at all.
Monarchy is that form of government in which all the parts of the supreme power are committed to one person. And such a government may be either despotic, absolute, and unlimited; or limited. In the former case the administration is vested altogether in the prince, without any check, or restriction whatsoever. In this government, according to Montesquieu, the prince is all in all. The people were all equal, and their equality is the most abject slavery. The principle of this kind of government is fear generated in ignorance. Submission constitutes the only security, which the people enjoy: and the safety of the tyrant is alike the result of their terrors, and their ignorance.
In this government the will of the prince is the only law, manners and customs, says Montesquieu, supply the place of general laws, and the will of the prince constitutes the law in particular cases. Hence in a despotic government there are no laws which can be properly so called: laws are established; manners are inspired; these proceed from a general spirit, those, from a particular institution. It is a capital maxim, that the manners and customs of a despotic empire should never be changed; for nothing would more speedily produce a revolution.
In China, the fundamental laws of the empire are spoken of; the emperor presumes not to change them; but on particular occasions he dispenses with them. They are binding upon all the world but himself; and so far binding even upon him, that he leaves them to his successor, to dispense with, as he had done before him.
A limited monarchy (if indeed such a form of government can be anywhere found) is one where by some original laws in the very constitution or conveyance of power, the quantity of it is determined, and limits set to it, with reservations of certain public rights of the people, not entrusted to the prince; and yet no court or council, constituted which does not derive its power from him. How far the government established over the Israelites in the person of Saul … when Samuel their prophet “told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book and laid it up before the Lord,” may have furnished a model for this species of monarchy, is foreign from our present inquiry.
Baron Montesquieu distinguishes that species of monarchy in which there are intermediate, subordinate, and dependent powers, likewise, from the absolute or despotic kind, above-mentioned; yet he acknowledges that even in this, the prince, is the source of all power, civil and political, but that he governs by fundamental laws. “And these,” says he, “necessarily suppose the intermediate channels through which the power flows. The most natural, intermediate, and subordinate power is that of the nobility. No nobility, no monarch; but there may be a despotic prince.”
But I incline to refer this latter form of government to the class of mixed governments, rather than to the simple monarchical form. It partakes, however, of both; wherever the prince alone is the source of all power, the government is really absolute, in spite of forms. Though the establishment of different ranks, and orders may vary the condition of the people, whereby the burdens of government are unequally borne, yet this does not alter the nature of the government, unless there be some certain powers annexed to those different ranks, or some of them, which may on certain occasions control or check the administration of the monarch. Where no such incidental powers exist, the government is still absolute in the person of the prince: and wherever they do exist, their existence constitutes a mixed government. In Spain, since the suppression of the cortes, the monarchy is absolute; yet there is in Spain a splendid nobility, whose condition is far above the rest of the people, but who, possess no power in respect to the operations of the government. In France, before the late revolution; in Russia, in Prussia, and in Sweden under the government of its late monarch, this was also the case. In all these countries the prince is supposed to govern by fixed laws; yet in all of them, I apprehend he was absolute. In England, the nobility form a separate branch of the supreme legislature; the power of the crown is according to the theory of that government, limited thereby; and this constitutes the English government, what is ordinarily styled, a limited monarchy, but more properly a mixed government. Baron Montesquieu, at the same moment that he is speaking of that species of monarchy in which there are intermediate, subordinate, and dependent powers, subjoins; “that the prince is the source of all power political and civil.” I am at a loss to conceive how the power of such a prince can be said to be limited. He considers indeed the ecclesiastical power in Spain and Portugal, as forming a carrier against the torrent of arbitrary power in those countries: but the ecclesiastical power can scarcely be considered as a dependent power on the crown in either of these kingdoms. It for a long time maintained a superiority over the civil power, in those, and most other countries in Europe; and even at this day, it might hazard a revolution in either of those two kingdoms, if the monarch should attempt to treat it as a subordinate, dependent power.
It must, however, be confessed, that there is a wide difference between those governments, where liberty hath never been known to exist, or has been long banished, as in Turkey, and in most of the Asiatic, and African states, and those, where absolute authority hath been acquired by gradual usurpations, or violent exertions, made at particular epochs, to suppress those branches of the government, which, in mixed governments, are stripped to form some check upon the supreme executive authority, as was the case in the suppression of the cortes, or assembly of the nobles, in Spain, by Charles V. Of the states general, and provincial parliaments, in France, by Louis XIII. And of the diet of the States, and the senate of Sweden, by the late king Gustavus III. In these last cases, the laws relating to property being previously established, and the privileges of the several orders and ranks of persons, understood, and admitted by general custom, and implied consent, the assumption of power by the prince, was directed to the abolition of public, rather than private rights. In such states, the business of legislation is ordinarily confined to a single subject, that of revenue. The ancient laws on all other subjects remaining unaltered, the people seem to possess some rights: whereas in the Turkish and Asiatic governments, the subject is held to be the slave of the sovereign and his property is held at his master’s will. In the European monarchies, on the other hand, the higher orders, or nobility often, posses very extensive powers over the commonalty, or peasantry, as they are frequently styled, without interfering with, or in any manner diminishing the authority of the government over either; but, on the contrary, strengthening and supporting it on every occasion, where its oppressions might incline the people to resistance, if they possessed the means of making it. And this may serve to explain the maxim, “no nobility, no monarch.” The foundations of this species of monarchy are to be sought for, in the ancient feudal governments, the prince having by degrees usurped, and annihilated all those privileges which might possibly interfere with his own authority; yet leaving the nobility in possession of such as might enable them to maintain a superiority over the people, without danger to the throne. Such was the state of France under Louis XIV, and his successors.
If this kind of monarchy be considered as limited, it proceeds not so much from the nature of the government, as from the character of the nation, previous to its establishment. If the prince from an apprehension of rousing that spirit of liberty, which has been smothered, rather than extinguished, pursues moderate measures, the people are flattered into a notion, that this circumstance is owing, equally, to the excellence of their government, and, to the benignity of their monarch. The distinction between the character of the prince, and the nature of the government, is soon lost sight of. Hence that profound veneration, that enthusiastic predilection for their own government, which is found almost universally, to prevail in all nations. The moderation of Augustus Caesar, after he was established in the empire of Rome, contributed not less to the annihilation of the spirit of liberty, in the nation, than his own previous tyranny, and that of his successors, did, to the enjoyment of it. The same moderation in the late king of Sweden’s administration, after subverting the constitution, was calculated to obliterate the remembrance of that transaction, and even to persuade the nation that they were more free, than before he became absolute. His posterity will probably evince to them the change in their condition.
This species of monarchy being usually founded upon usurpation, rather than conquest, the prince does not always exert his authority to the utmost extent; but reserves such an exercise of it for extraordinary emergencies. When they occur, and the people feel new oppressions, if the spirit of liberty be not wholly extinguished among them, such oppressions are regarded as usurpations. From hence it happens that these governments are neither so durable, nor so tranquil, as those more rigorous despotisms, which are founded in conquest, and in which the spirit of liberty has been long since annihilated. In these last, the people, being already reduced to the most abject slavery, are incapable of distinguishing between one act of tyranny and another: they are divested of all power of resistance; and therefore acquiesce in any new burdens, which their cruel task-masters may impose, without presuming to murmur, or to complain but where the people are not yet reduced to such an abject state, a series of oppressions, heaped upon them from time to time, irritate and inflame their minds, much more than such an instantaneous accumulation of injuries, as would amount to a total privation of liberty at once. Reiterated oppressions, though comparatively light, have often the same effect as superficial wounds; a number of which are often more painful than a single one, that is mortal. The irritation of temper among the people, thus produced, generally manifests itself by open opposition, with the first favorable occasion; the suppression of such an opposition renders the government more absolute, despotic, and tyrannical: on the other hand its success overturns, or changes the nature of, the government. Such appears to have been the origin and progress of the late revolution in France.14
The distinction of ranks in this kind of government contributes not, as we have already observed, to impose any check upon the government, in favor of the people, in general. The nobility, are, according to Montesquieu, at once the slaves of the monarch, and the despots of the people. Their privileges have no relation to the government, otherwise than to exempt them from the utmost severity of those oppressions, which are indiscriminately heaped upon the lower orders; but they are great, as they respect the lower orders. An admission into the higher class gains an exemption from that intermediate oppression, which these orders exercise over the inferior ranks of the people. This produces a stimulus which Montesquieu has dignified with the epithet honour; which, as he informs us, is the vital principle of this kind of monarchy, and excites men to aspire to preferments, and to distinguishing titles. The term honour, thus understood, conveys no very favorable impression to the ear of a republican.
As, in a simple monarchy, the nation is as it were concentrated in the person of the prince, the lustre of the throne is often mistaken for the prosperity of the nation. Does a prince maintain an immense army in his territories; are the ports of his dominions filled with a powerful navy; does he not only inspire his neighbors with the terror of his arms, but even overawe remote nations by the greatness of his power: is he always on the watch from some specious cause, or pretext for a quarrel; does he ransack the records of nations to discover some obsolete claim to their territories; does he seize upon the dominions, or usurp the sovereignty of some weaker state; doth he carry fire and sword into every quarter; doth desolation mark the footsteps of his ambition; and the misery, or extermination of the human race point out the progress of his success? Such a prince hath arrived at the pinnacle of glory: and his frauds, avarice, injustice, cruelties, usurpation, and tyranny, are lost amidst the lustre of his diadem; and together with the groans, execrations and curses of the victims to his ambition, are consigned to oblivion by the partial pen of the historian. … Let the most partial admirers of the most renowned princes of antiquity, or of modern ages call this an exaggerated picture of a flourishing monarchy! In a mixed hereditary monarchy the features may be somewhat softened: but they are still the features of an enemy to the human race, if we may judge from some of the fairest examples of that species of government.
From an union of the principles of these three simple forms of government, or the combination of any two of them, arises what political writers denominate a mixed, or complex form of government. These complex forms are innumerable, according as monarchy, either hereditary or elective, is combined with some of the several sorts of aristocracies, or democracies, or with both. And further important diversities may arise according as the several essential parts of the supreme power are entrusted, differently, with the prince, the senate, or the popular assembly; or according to the mode in which the prince, or either of those coordinate assemblies may themselves, be constituted. As whether the prince, or the members of the senate, be hereditary or elective, and if elective, for what periods, and out of what bodies, they may be elected; and by whom, and in what manner such election may be made. And again, by whom the popular assemblies shall be elected; for what periods; and whether any, and what qualifications in respect to estate, shall be required either in the electors, or in the representative.
Political writers seem to have differed in opinion respecting these kinds of mixed governments; for whilst some of them appear to regard such forms of government as corruptions of the simple forms, others have bestowed the most exalted encomiums on them, as uniting the advantages, and avoiding the inconveniences inseparable from each of them, singly. It is obvious, says Doctor Hutchinson,15 that when by any plan of polity these four advantages can be obtained, wisdom in discerning, the fittest measures for the general interest; fidelity, with expedition and secrecy in the determination and execution of them; and concord, and unity; a nation must have all that happiness which any plan of polity can give it, as sufficient wisdom in the governors will discover the most effectual means, and fidelity will choose them by expedition and secrecy, they will be most effectually executed, and unity will prevent one of the greatest evils, civil wars, and seditions. The great necessity of taking sufficient precaution against the mischiefs of factions and civil wars, leads most writers in politics to another obvious maxim, viz. that the several parts of the supreme power if they are lodged by any complex plan in different subjects, some granted to a prince, others to a senate, and others to a popular assembly, there must in such case be some nexus imperii, or political bond, that they may not be able, or incline to act separately, and in opposition to each other. Without this, two supreme powers may be constituted in the same state, which may give frequent occasions to civil wars. This would be the case if both the senate and popular assembly, claimed, separately, and independently, the legislative power: as it happened in Rome, after the tribunes held assemblies of the plebeians, without authority of the senate, and obtained that the decrees of the plebeians should have the force of laws, while the senate insisted upon the like force to their decrees. The like was the case in many nations of Europe, while the ecclesiastical state pretended to make obligatory laws, and exercise certain jurisdictions, independently of the civil. If therefore the several essential parts of the supreme power are distributed among different persons, or courts, they must have a strong bond of union. If a prince has the executive, and the power of peace and war, while another body has the legislative, the power of raising tributes must be at least necessarily shared with the legislative council, that it never may be the prince’s interest to make war without their concurrence: and the prince must have a share in the legislative. Without such bonds, laws might be enacted which the prince would not execute, or wars entered into which the nation would not support. … But there is no such necessity, adds the same writer, that all the parts of the supreme power should be committed either to one person, or to one council: And the other interests of the state may require that they should be divided.
It is evident, from the case here supposed, that this ingenuous writer had the British constitution (in which there is an hereditary prince, in whom the supreme executive authority, including the power of peace and war, is vested,) in his eye, when he wrote this passage, evidently calculated to justify that principle in the British constitution, that the regal character must possess some share in the legislature; as otherwise it might happen, that laws might be enacted, which he, being responsible to no one for his conduct, would not execute. That constitution must indeed be radically defective, where the executive authority may safely refuse to execute the law. But it may be doubted whether this defect is at all remedied, by allowing the executive magistrate, not only an absolute negative over every act of the legislature, but in fact an initiative authority within the legislature itself: and this initiative has been so long sanctioned by practice, that it is now considered as the peculiar province of the principal minister of the crown,16 to bring forward every specific proposition for a tax that may be made in the house of commons; to whom the initiative right, in this case, is said to belong, exclusively not only of the crown, but even of the house of lords, or second branch of the legislature. But to return to our subject.
Dr. Hutchinson concludes, that none of the simple forms can be safe for a society. That if those deserve to be called the regular forms which are wisely adapted to the true ends of civil polity, all the simple forms are to be called rather rude and imperfect. That complex forms, made up of all three, will be found the best, and most regular, according to the general doctrine; both of ancients and moderns.
It was observed in another place, that governments may be variously modified upon the democratic principle: and it is perhaps susceptible of proof, that a representative democracy is more capable of such a modification, as may unite all the real advantages of the three simple forms of government, without hazarding the inconveniences actually inseparable from either, singly, than any other state, or body politic whatsoever.
The professed design, and obvious advantages of these mixed governments, is said to consist in the union of the public virtue and goodness of intention, to be found in popular assemblies, with the superior wisdom usually ascribed to a select council, composed of the most experienced citizens; and the strength, energy, and union of a government committed to the hands of a single person’s influence.
The benefits of the democratic, or popular branch, strictly speaking, may be preserved by a popular assembly, chosen annually, by the people of convenient districts, in fair and equal proportions, from among themselves; wherein the right of electing, and of being elected, shall be extended to every citizen having a sufficient evidence of a permanent common interest with, and attachment to the community: which assembly should possess the initiative right in the establishment of all laws, and more especially such as may impose or create any burden upon the state or its citizens. To preserve this branch from falling under the influence of men of wealth, an agrarian system should be established, to prevent the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, and the establishment of patronage and dependence among the yeomanry or farmers, by reducing them from the state of absolute proprietors of their farms, to that of tenants, or vassals, over whom, their rich landlords may acquire a kind of feudal authority and control. The best mode of obviating such an accumulation seems to be the partibility of estates among all the children, or collateral relations of persons dying intestate, and the absolute prohibition of all perpetuities in lands. If the members of this assembly be rendered incapable of holding, or accepting any lucrative office which may be created by the legislature, or filled by the choice of any other department of the government, their purity, integrity, and independence, will be unimpaired and unsuspected. They will not impose burdens which they must share in bearing, nor will they create offices, and increase emoluments, of which no part can arrive to themselves. They will not forfeit the confidence of their constituents by an abuse of the power confided to them, nor will they desire to extend those powers which another may be called upon the next year to exercise in their stead. If they have the power of nomination to office, in some of the more important ministerial and judiciary departments, in such mode as to give to the senate the power of selecting a smaller number from the whole number of persons nominated; and to the executive department, the final choice between those whom the senate may prefer; it might be expected that offices filled in such a mode, would be bestowed on persons eminent for their integrity, capacity, and diligence. If they were vested with a kind of censorial power likewise, or the right of impeaching such of the public agents as may betray their trust, and endanger the public happiness, such an assembly might be supposed to unite in it all the advantages which could be expected from a general assembly of the people in a democratic state.
If there be a second council, composed of fewer members, more advanced in age, and chosen from larger districts, by electors chosen for that especial purpose in the smaller districts by the people themselves, such a council may be presumed likely to possess more wisdom than any hereditary counsellors, and as much, both of wisdom, integrity, and of weight among the people, as any similar council constituted in any other mode; if one third, or one fourth, of the members should in continual rotation go out, every third or fourth year, there would always remain a sufficient number who may be supposed to have acquired an intimate acquaintance with the nature of the business they would have to transact; whilst the short period of three or four years at the end of which they must vacate their seats, and either return to the level of the rest of their fellow citizens, or owe their reelection to a general approbation of their conduct, would induce them constantly to bear in mind their duty to the public. … If no personal privileges were annexed to their station, and they, as well as the members of the popular assembly, were incapable of election to any other office; it would insure an honest independence of conduct, unswayed by hopes, and unawed by fears, from any other branch of the government. If to such a council every act of the initiative or popular assembly, were necessarily submitted for their amendment, approbation, or rejection, it might be presumed that no laws would be enacted, the nature and consequence of which had not been fully considered and digested, before they should become obligatory upon the people. If in those cases where the popular assemblies might have the power of nomination to office, the character of those recommended by popular favour were to undergo a scrutiny in such a council, and the number of candidates were reduced to two, or at most three, out of whom the final appointment should be made, the demagogues of faction would probably be excluded from office, in favor of those citizens, whose virtues and talents might give them a just title to a preference. A senate thus constituted, and restricted, might also, perhaps, be safely entrusted with the power of trying impeachments; in those cases, at least, where a member of the supreme judicial court, should incur the notice of the censorial power of the popular assembly: In all other cases, I should presume, that the judicial courts, would be the proper tribunals for such trials. In no simple aristocracy could a council as wise, as virtuous, and as faithful, be found.
The regal, or executive power of the state, might upon the same principles be lodged either in the hands of a single magistrate; or in such a magistrate with the advice and consent of a council, composed of a few select citizens, eminently distinguished for their fidelity, patriotism, wisdom, and experience, in the affairs of the state. The best mode of choosing such an executive body would probably be, by electors chosen from among the people, in several convenient districts, whose power should extend to that business, alone. If the chief magistrate be chosen in this manner, and for a short period; if after a certain period he be ineligible, for some years; if his council, (where such is assigned him) be composed of persons chosen in a similar manner, and going out by rotation at the end of two or three years, after their election; if they be precluded from any other lucrative office, during the period for which they may be elected; if they be liable to the censorial power of the popular assembly, and when removed from office return to the condition of private citizens; such an executive, on all necessary occasions, would possess all the energy, secrecy, unanimity, and dispatch to be found in a monarchy, without any danger of becoming the tyrants of the people, instead of their servants and agents. And a government so constituted would probably unite in itself every advantage which theorists ascribe to any complex, or mixed form of government whatsoever.
But such a government would be a representative democracy, and not a mixt government, of that nature which those writers prefer. For it is the essence of this latter species of government, that the several powers, which, together, share the administration, or as it is ordinarily called, the supreme power, or sovereignty, should be, (in theory, at least) entirely independent of each other. Thus in England, we are told that “the legislature of the kingdom (in which the absolute rights of sovereignty, (or jura summi imperii) are said to reside) is entrusted to three distinct powers, entirely independent of each other; viz. the king, in whom the supreme executive power is also lodged; the house of lords, composed of an aristocratical assembly of persons, selected for their piety, their birth, their wisdom, their valor, or their property; and thirdly, the house of commons, freely chosen from the people among themselves, which makes it a kind of democracy; as this aggregate body, actuated by different springs, and attentive to different interests, composes the British parliament, and has the supreme disposal of everything, there can no inconvenience be attempted by either of these branches,” says judge Blackstone, “but will be withstood by one of the other two; each branch being armed with a negative power, sufficient to repel any innovation which it shall think inexpedient.”
Such is the outline of the far-famed British constitution, as sketched by the masterly pen of judge Blackstone, whose able commentary, and high wrought panegyric, upon it; together with the elaborate researches, and encomiums of De Lolme; and the elegant eulogium of president Montesquieu, are well deserving the attentive perusal of the student. And, if to all these, the suffrage of a late exalted character in the government of the United States can afford any additional lustre, the British constitution may be selected, not only as the most perfect model of these kinds of mixed governments, but as the most stupendous monument of human wisdom.17
It would far exceed the proposed limits of this essay to enter into a minute examination of its structure, and to point out the essential difference between its theoretical excellencies, and its practical defects, corruptions, and radical departures from those very principles, which have been supposed to constitute that superiority and preeminence, which these and other writers have ordinarily ascribed to it. But the following observations from the pen of a native, whose style and manner evince a superiority both of genius and discernment, whilst they leave no doubt upon the mind, that he had seen and felt all that he describes, may lead us to conclude, that the practical abuses, corruptions, and oppressions of that government, are at least equal to the theoretical preeminence of its constitution.
“It is perhaps susceptible of proof,” says this nervous writer,18 “that these governments of balance and control have never existed but in the visions of theorists. The fairest example will be the constitution of England. If it can be proved that the two members of the legislature who pretend to control each other are ruled by the same class of men, the control must be granted to be imaginary. That opposition of interest which is supposed to preclude all conspiracy against the people can no longer exist. That this is the state of England, the most superficial observation must evince. The great proprietors, titled and untitled, possess the whole force of both houses of parliament, that is not immediately dependent on the crown. The peers have a great influence in the house of commons. All political parties are formed by a confederacy of the members of both houses. The court party by the influence of the crown, acting equally in both, supported by a part of the independent aristocracy: The opposition by the remainder of the aristocracy, whether commoners, or lords. Here is every symptom of collusion: no vestige of control. The only case where it could arise, is where the interest of the peerage, is distinct from that of the other great proprietors.”
“Who can, without indignation,” adds the same writer, “hear the house of commons of England called a popular representative?19 A more insolent and preposterous abuse of language is not to be found in the vocabulary of tyrants. The criterion that distinguishes laws from dictates, freedom from servitude, rightful government from usurpation, the law being an expression of the general will is wanting. This is the grievance which the admirers of the revolution in 1688, desire to remedy according to its principles. This is that perennial source of corruption, which has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. If the general interest is not the object of the government, it is, it must be, because the general will does not govern. We are boldly challenged to produce our proofs: our complaints are asserted to be chimerical, and the excellence of our government is inferred from its beneficial effects. Most unfortunately for us, most unfortunately for our country, these proofs are too ready, and too numerous. We find them in that monumental debt, the bequest of wasteful, and profligate wars, which wrings from the peasant something of his hard-earned pittance which already has punished the industry of the useful and upright manufacturer, by robbing him of the asylum of his house, and the judgment of his peers; to which the madness of political quixotism adds a million for every farthing that the pomp of ministerial empyricism pays; and which menaces our children with convulsions and calamities, of which no age has seen the parallel. We find them in the bloody roll of persecuting statutes that are still suffered to stain our code; a list so execrable, that were there no monument to be preserved of what England was in the eighteenth century, but her statute-book, she might be deemed still plunged in the deepest gloom of superstitious barbarism. We find them in the ignominious exclusion of great bodies of our fellow citizens from political trusts, by tests which reward falsehood, and punish probity, which profane the rites of the religion they pretend to guard, and usurp the dominion of the God, they profess to receive. We find them in the growing corruptions of those who administer the government, in the venality of a house of commons which has become only a cumbrous and expensive chamber for registering ministerial edicts … in the increase of a nobility arrived to a degradation, by the profusion and prostitution of honors, which the most zealous partisans of democracy would have spared them. We find them, above all, in the rapid progress which has been made to silence the great organ of public opinion, the Press, which is the true control on ministers and parliaments who might else, with impunity, trample on the impotent formalities, that form the pretended bulwark of our freedom. … The mutual control, the well-poised balance of the several members of our legislature, are the visions of theoretical, or the pretexts of practical politicians. It is a government not of check, but of conspiracy … a conspiracy which can only be repressed by the energy of popular opinion.”
If this be a true picture of the government of Great Britain (and whether it is or not, I shall leave it to others to inquire and determine,) the epoch can not be far distant, which Judge Blackstone hints at in the introduction of his commentaries. “If ever it should happen,” says that enlightened author, “that the independence of any one of the three branches of the legislature should be lost, or that it should become subservient to the views of either of the other two, there would soon be an end of the constitution.” In which case, according to Sir Matthew Hale,20 the subjects of that kingdom are left without all manner of remedy.
Such, then, being this history of the British constitution, the most perfect model of these mixed governments, (as agreed on all hands by their admirers, and advocates,) that the world ever saw, we may apply to them generally, the observations of an excellent politician21 of the last century. “If all the parts of the state do not with their utmost power promote the public good; if the prince has other aims than the safety and welfare of his country; if such as represent the people do not preserve their courage and integrity; if the nation’s treasure is wasted; if ministers are allowed to undermine the constitution with impunity; if judges are suffered to pervert justice, and wrest the law; then is a mixed government the greatest tyranny in the world: it is tyranny established by law; and the people are bound in fetters of their own making. A tyranny that governs by the sword, has few friends but men of the sword; but a legal tyranny (where the people are only called to confirm iniquity with their own voices) has on its side the rich, the timid, the lazy, those that know law, and get by it, ambitious churchmen, and all whose livelihood depends upon the quiet posture of affairs: and the persons here described compose the influencing part of most nations; so that such a tyranny is hardly to be shaken off.”
I cannot better conclude what relates to the several kinds of government of which we have been speaking, whether simple, or complex, than by a summary of their several characters, corruptions, and transitions from one to another, for which I am indebted to the pen of a most intimate friend,22 from who I have borrowed several passages in the preceding part of this essay.
“In a democratical government all authority is derived from the people at large, held only during their pleasure, and exercised only for their benefit. The constitution is a social covenant entered into by express consent of the people upon the footing of the most perfect equality with respect to civil liberty. No man has any privilege above his fellow citizens, except whilst in office, and even then, none but what they have thought proper to vest in him solely for the purpose of supporting him in the effectual performance of his duty to the public.
“In every other form of government, authority is acquired more by usurpation than by appointment of the people; it serves to give dignity and grandeur to a few, and to degrade the rest and it is exercised more for the benefit of the rulers, than of the nation. The constitution is established upon a compromise of differences between two or more contending parties, each according to the means it possesses, extorting from the other every concession that can possibly be obtained, without the smallest regard to justice, or the common rights of mankind. It is a truce, by which the people are always compelled to surrender some, and generally a very large portion of their freedom; and of course they have a right to reclaim it, whenever more favorable circumstances put it in their power. If the prince, at the head of an armed force, reduces them to unconditional submission, he becomes a despotic monarch, and the people are in the most deplorable state of slavery. They have no longer the presumption to imagine themselves created for any other purpose than to be subservient to his will, and to administer to his pleasures and ambition. They even think it an honor to be made the base instruments of his tyranny. They look up to him with a reverential awe surpassing what they feel for the almighty parent of the universe. Such is the servility of man degraded by oppression.
“If the people retain still some resources which may render the issue of the contest doubtful, the prince for his own safety, most humanely grants them some privileges, and is then a limited monarch. They are often deluded into an opinion, that what liberties they enjoy are entirely derived from his bounty; and taught to consider themselves as the happiest of mankind in having a sovereign who graciously condescends to allow them the possession of what happily he had not the power to wrest out of their hands.
“A despotic government is often both quiet and durable, because the tyrant having an army at command, is thereby enabled to keep the people in awe and subjection, and to deprive them of all opportunity of communicating their complaints, or deliberating on the means of relief. Conspiracies happen often among the troops, the reigning prince is murdered, or dethroned, but another tyrant takes his place, and the nation remains in peaceable servitude, scarcely sensible of the revolution. … When the government is less despotic, the people have more both of power and inclination to resist oppression. They are not so thoroughly stripped of the means of defense, they have more opportunity of concerting measures, and their mental faculties retain more of their natural activity. Such a government must generally be contentious and changeable. The rulers can not be long satisfied with a limitation of prerogative, or the people with the abridgment of their privileges. The same is also true in all mixed governments, the component, or balancing powers being ever at variance, until corruption, intrigue, or faction, establishes in one branch, a permanent superiority and influence over the others, or finally destroys them.
“Often it happens that the contest for power is between the prince and nobles, the people having been previously enslaved. In this case the form of government is variable so far as relates to the prince and nobility; but the slavery of the people is lasting. This happens in all feudal governments.
“Sometimes the dispute is between the bulk of the people, and a few leading men, who having been honored with the confidence of their fellow-citizens betray their trust, grasp at power, and endeavor to establish themselves in permanent superiority. Their success constitutes an aristocracy, which is generally a most oppressive government, although often for the sake of blinding the people, it is dignified with the name of a republic. Indeed every constitution that has hitherto existed under that name, has partaken more or less of the nature of an aristocracy; and it is this aristocratical leaven that has generally occasioned disorders and tumults in every republican government; and has so far brought the name into disrepute, (even in America, where the sovereignty is confessedly in the people,) that it is becoming a received opinion, that a commonwealth, in proportion as it approaches to democracy, wants those springs of efficacious authority, which are necessary to the production of regularity and good order, and degenerates into anarchy and confusion. This is commonly imputed to the capricious humor of the people, who are said to run riot with too much liberty, to be always unreasonable in their demands, and never satisfied, but when ruled with a rod of iron.
“These are the common place arguments against a democratic constitution. They are the pleas of ambition to introduce aristocracy, monarchy, and every species of tyranny and oppression. Unfortunate indeed for the liberties of mankind, if it be true, that to render them orderly, it is necessary to render them slaves. However generally this position may have been admitted, we may venture to deny that it is an inference fairly drawn from experience. Without better proof than has been adduced, we cannot justly admit that the people at large are capricious or unreasonable, or that a democratic government will be productive of disorder or tumult. The blame in such cases is indeed generally laid on the people, but it is easy to see that the charge is unjust. So far from being unreasonable in their demands, there is perhaps no one instance in history, where they have ventured at once to push their claims to the full extent of reason, and to make an ample demand of justice. They rarely complain at once of more than one or two grievances. When these are removed, they become sensible of others. In proportion as they acquire more freedom, they gain more strength of mind, and independence of spirit. They see further into the nature and extent of their own rights, and call louder for a restoration of them. This is called turbulence and caprice, but is in reality only a requisition of justice; which being either refused, or but partially and unwillingly granted, it is to the oppressors, and not the oppressed, that the mischief is to be imputed.
“It is thus, I apprehend, and not otherwise,” continues the same writer, “that a government approaching to democracy is apt to be disorderly. The people have a right to complain, so long as they are robbed of any portion of their freedom; and if their complaints are not heard, they have a right to use any method of enfranchising themselves. On the contrary, I am inclined to believe, that in general the people are pretty easily satisfied when no injustice is intended towards them; and if it be allowed to reason a priori in such a case, I conclude that a real democracy, as it is the only equitable constitution, so it would be of all the most happy, and perhaps, of all the most quiet and orderly.”
I shall conclude this summary with remarking, that if ever there was a country in which a fair experiment could be made of the efficacy, advantages, duration, and happiness to be derived from a democratic government, that country is United America.
Political bodies, whether great or small, if they are constituted by a people formerly independent, and under no civil subjection, or by those who justly claim independence from any civil power they were formerly subject to, have the civil supremacy in themselves, and are in a state of equal right and liberty with respect to all other states, whether great or small. No regard is to be had in this matter to names; whether the body politic be called a kingdom, an empire, a principality, a dukedom, a country, a republic, or free town. If it can exercise justly all the essential parts of civil power within itself independently of any other person or body politic, and no other hath any right to rescind or annul its acts, it has the civil supremacy, how small soever its territory may be, or the number of its people, and has all the rights of an independent state.23
This independence of states, and their being distinct political bodies from each other, is not obstructed by any alliance or confederacies whatsoever, about exercising jointly any parts of the supreme power; such as those of peace and war, in leagues offensive and defensive. Two states, notwithstanding such treaties, are separate bodies and independent.24
They are then, only, deemed politically united when some one person, or council, is constituted with a right to exercise some essential powers for both, and to hinder either from exercising them separately. If any person or council is empowered to exercise all these essential powers for both, they are then one state: such is the state of England and Scotland, since the act of union made at the beginning of the eighteenth century, whereby the two kingdoms were incorporated into one, all parts of the supreme power of both kingdoms being henceforward united and vested in the three estates of the realm of Great Britain: by which entire coalition, though both kingdoms retain their ancient laws and usages in many respects, they are as effectually united and incorporated, as the several petty kingdoms, which composed the heptarchy, were before that period.
But when only a portion of the supreme civil power is vested in one person, or council for both, such as that of peace and war, or of deciding controversies between different states, or their subjects, whilst each state within itself exercise other parts of the supreme power, independently of all the others; in this case they are called systems of states: which Burlamaqui defines to be an assemblage of perfect governments, strictly united by some common bond; so that they seem to make but a single body with respect to those affairs which interest them in common, though each preserves its sovereignty full and entire, independently of all the others. … And in this case, he adds, the confederate states engage to each other only to exercise with common consent, certain parts of the sovereignty, especially those which relate to their mutual defense, against foreign enemies. But each of the confederates retains an entire liberty of exercising as it thinks proper, those parts of the sovereignty, which are not mentioned in the treaty of union, as parts that ought to be exercised in common. And of this nature is the American confederacy, in which each state has resigned the exercise of certain parts of the supreme civil power which they possessed before (except in common with the other states included in the confederacy) reserving to themselves all their former powers, which are not delegated to the United States by the common bond of union.
A visible distinction, and not less important than obvious, occurs to our observation in comparing these different kinds of union. The kingdoms of England and Scotland are united into one kingdom; and the two contracting states by such an incorporate union are, in the opinion of Judge Blackstone, totally annihilated, without any power of revival; and a third arises from their conjunction, in which all the rights of sovereignty, and particularly that of legislation, are vested. From whence he expresses a doubt whether any infringements of the fundamental and essential conditions of the union, would of itself dissolve the union of those kingdoms, though he readily admits, that in the case of a federate alliance, such an infringement would certainly rescind the compact between the confederate states. In the United States of America, on the contrary, each state retains its own antecedent form of government; its own laws, subject to the alteration and control of its own legislatures, only; its own executive officers, and council of state: its own courts of judicature, its own judges; its own magistrates, civil officers, and officers of the militia; and, in short, its own civil state, or body politic, in every respect whatsoever. And by the express declaration of the twelfth article25 of the amendments to the constitution, the powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, or prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. In Great Britain, a new civil state is created by the annihilation of two antecedent civil states; in the American States, a general federal council, and administrative, is provided, for the joint exercise of such of their several powers, as can be more conveniently exercised in that mode, than any other; leaving their civil state unaltered; and all the other powers, which the states antecedently possessed, to be exercised by them, respectively, as if no union, or connection were established between them.
The ancient Achaia seems to have been a confederacy founded upon a similar plan; each of those little states had its distinct possessions, territories, and boundaries, each had its senate, or assembly, its magistrates and judges; and every state sent deputies to the general convention, and had equal weight in all determinations. And most of the neighboring states, which, moved, by fear of danger, acceded to this confederacy, had reason to felicitate themselves. The republic of Lycia was a confederacy of towns, which they ranged into three classes, according to their respective importance. To the cities of the first rank, they allowed three votes, each, in the general council; to those of the second two, and to those of the third one. … The assembly of the Amphictyons, that assembly whose councils enabled Greece to withstand the power of the Persian monarchy, and whose decisions were held in such veneration that their sentences were seldom, or never, disputed, was composed of deputies from the several states of Greece, in number twelve, each of which sent to this grand council one, two, or three delegates, according to their respective importance. The Helvetic confederacy consists in the union of several republics. They have a common assembly, in which all matters interesting to the whole community are debated: whatever is there determined by a majority, binds the whole; they all agree in making peace, and declaring war; and the laws and customs, which prevail throughout the Swiss cantons, are, excepting the difference of religion between the Protestant, and Popish cantons, nearly the same. There are, however, some important differences both in constitution, and administration.
The United Provinces of the Netherlands before their late revolution, maintained a common confederacy; each province possessing a constitution and internal government of its own, independent of the others: this government is called the states of that province; and the delegates from them formed the states-general, in whom the sovereignty of the whole confederacy was vested; but though a province might send two or more delegates, yet such province had no more than one voice in every resolution; and before that resolution could have the force of a law, it must have been approved by every province. … The council of state consisted likewise of deputies from the several provinces; but its constitution was different from that of the states-general; it was composed of twelve deputies, (some of the states sending two, and some one, only), who voted by persons, and not by provinces, as in the states-general. Their business was to prepare estimates, and ways and means, for raising the revenue, as well as other matters that were to be laid before the states-general.
It is very probable, says the president Montesquieu, that mankind would have at length been obliged to live constantly under the government of a single person, had they not contrived a constitution, (such as we are now speaking of) that has all the internal advantages of a republican, together with the external force of a monarchical, government. It was these associations, he adds, that contributed so long to the prosperity of Greece. By these the Romans attacked the universe, and by these only the universe withstood their power; for when Rome was arrived, to her highest pitch of grandeur, it was the associations beyond the Danube, and the Rhine, associations formed by terror, (such was the foundation of the American confederacy) that enabled the barbarians to resist her.
A confederate government, according to the same author, ought to be composed of states of the same nature, especially of the republican kind. The spirit of monarchy is war and the enlargement of empire and dominion: Peace and moderation is the spirit of a republic. These two kinds of government cannot naturally subsist in a confederate republic. Greece was undone as soon as the kings of Macedon obtained a seat among the Amphictyons. The confederate republic of Germany, composed of princes and free towns, subsists by means of a chief, who is in some measure the magistrate, and in some the monarch of the union.
These confederacies by which several states are united together by a perpetual league of alliance, are chiefly founded upon this circumstance, that each particular people choose to remain their own masters, and yet are not strong enough to make head against a common enemy. The purport of such an agreement usually is, that they shall not exercise some part of the sovereignty there specified, without the general consent of each other. For the leagues to which these systems of states owe their rise seem distinguished from others (so frequent among different states) chiefly by this consideration; that in the latter, each confederate people determine themselves by their own judgment to certain mutual performances, yet so that in all other respects they design not in the least to make the exercise of that part of the sovereignty, whence those performances proceed, dependent on the consent of their allies, or to retrench anything from their full and unlimited power of governing their own states. Thus we see that ordinary treaties propose, for the most part as their aim, only some particular advantage of the states thus transacting; their interests happening at present to fall in with each other; but do not produce any lasting union as to the chief management of affairs.26 Such was the treaty of alliance between America and France in the year 1778, by which among other articles it was agreed, that neither of the two parties should conclude either truce or peace with Great Britain without the formal consent of the other first obtained; and whereby they mutually engaged not to lay down their arms until the independence of the United States should be formally or tacitly assured by the treaty or treaties which should terminate the war. Whereas in these confederacies of which we are now speaking, the contrary is observable; they being established with this design, that the several states shall forever link their safety one with another, and, in order to this mutual defense, shall engage themselves not to exercise certain parts of their sovereign power, otherwise than by a common agreement, and approbation. Such were the stipulations, among others, contained in the articles of confederation and perpetual union between the American states, by which it was agreed, that no state should without the consent of the United States in congress assembled send any embassy to, or receive any embassy from, or enter into any conference, agreement, alliance, or treaty with, any king, prince, or state: nor keep up any vessels of war, or body of forces, in time of peace; nor engage in any war, without the consent of the United States in congress assembled, unless actually invaded; nor grant commissions to any ships of war, or letters of marque and reprisal, except after a declaration of war, by the United States in congress assembled, with several others: yet each state respectively retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right which is not expressly delegated to the United States in congress assembled. The promises made in these two cases here compared run very differently: in the former thus: “I will join you in this particular war, as was a confederate and the manner of our attacking the enemy shall be concerted by our common advice; nor will we desist from the war, till the particular end thereof, the establishment of the independence of the United States be obtained.” In the latter thus: “none of us who have entered into this alliance will make use of our right, as to the affairs of war and peace, except by the general consent of the whole confederacy.” We observed before, that these unions submit only some certain parts of the sovereignty to mutual direction. For it seems hardly possible that the affairs of different states should have so close a connection, as that all and each of them should look on it as their interest to have no part of the chief government exercised without the general concurrence. The most convenient method, therefore, seems to be that the particular states reserve to themselves all those branches of the supreme authority, the management of which can have little or no influence, on the affairs of the rest.27 Thus the American states, have reserved to themselves the uncontrolled right of framing, establishing, and revoking their civil laws, and the administration of justice according to them, in all cases whatsoever, in which they have not specifically consented to the jurisdiction of the United States. But as to all affairs, on which the safety, peace, and happiness of the federal union, hath a joint dependence, these say Puffendorf, ought in reason to be adjusted by a common constitution. This does not, however, says Barbeyrac, hinder but each confederated state may provide for its particular safety, by repressing its rebellious subjects. And herewith the present constitution of the United States fully agrees. For although congress are bound to guarantee to every state in the union a republican form of government, and to protect each of them against invasion; and also against domestic violence; yet this last is only to be done where the legislature, or executive of the state (where the legislature cannot be convened) shall make the application. Nor does any thing in the constitution prohibit any state from keeping troops, or ships of war, except in time of peace; nor from engaging in war, if it be either actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as not to admit of delay. Yet where no such invasion, or imminent danger exists, the engaging in war, whether offensive or defensive; and after the peace, as the result and issue of war, are among those things, which cannot be undertaken, or adjusted, but by the common consent of the confederacy. To which we may add, with Puffendorf, taxes and subsidies as they contribute, and are necessary, to the mutual support; and alliances with foreign states, as they may promote the common safety. It falls under the same head of duties, that in case any dispute arise among the confederates themselves, the other members who are unconcerned shall immediately interpose their mediation, and not suffer the controversy to come to blows. Or the confederates may establish some common tribunal by which their differences may be decided, such as the Amphictyonic council among the Grecian states; or as the supreme court of the United States, which hath original jurisdiction by the federal constitution, in all cases of controversy between two or more states. As for those other matters, which seem not so necessary to be transacted in common, (among which Puffendorf reckons negotiations of traffic, such as taxes, for the particular use of any single state, the constituting of magistrates, the enacting laws, the power of life and death over their respective citizens, or subjects, the ecclesiastical authority, where such an authority is permitted, and the like; there is no reason, but that they may be left to the pleasure of each distinct government: though at the same time particular states ought to manage their privileges as that they shall cause no disturbance in the general union. … Whence it is evident, that one or more of the allies cannot be hindered by the rest, from exercising, according to their own judgment, such parts of the civil administration, as are not in the compact of union, referred to the common direction.28 And this, with the exception of commercial treaties (which, for very cogent reason, were by the common consent surrendered by the respective states, to the general confederacy,) may be considered as sketching the general outline of the American union.
Since, in these systems, it is necessary that there should be a communication of certain affairs expressed in the compact of union; and since this cannot be conveniently done by letters; and since, even where this could be done, delays might be attended with great prejudice, or inconvenience to the confederacy, a determinate time and place ought to be settled for the holding assemblies and one or more persons appointed, who shall have power to call the states together, in case of any extraordinary business, which will admit of no delay. Though it seems a much more compendious method to fix a standing council, made up of persons deputed by the several confederates, who shall dispatch business according to the tenor of their commission; and, to whom the ministers of the confederacy in foreign parts, shall give an immediate account of their proceedings, and who shall treat with the ambassadors of other nations, and conclude business in the general name of the confederates; but shall determine nothing that exceeds the bounds of their commission. How far the power of this council of delegates extends, is to be gathered from the words of the compact itself, or from the warrant and under which they act. This is certain; that the power whatever it be, is not their own, but derived to them from those whom they represent; and although the decrees, which they publish, pass solely under their own name, yet the whole force and authority of them flows from the states, themselves, by whose consent such a council hath been erected: so that the deputies are no more than ministers of the confederate states, and are altogether as unable to enjoin any thing by their own proper authority, as an ambassador is to command and govern his master.29
The dissolution of these systems happens, when all the confederates by mutual consent, or some of them, voluntarily abandon the confederacy, and govern their own states apart; or a part of them form a different league and confederacy among each other, and withdraw themselves from the confederacy with the rest. Such was the proceeding on the part of those of the American states which first adopted the present constitution of the United States, and established a form of federal government, essentially different from that which was first established by the articles of confederation, leaving the states of Rhode Island and North Carolina, both of which, at first, rejected the new constitution, to themselves. This was an evident breach of that article of the confederation, which stipulated that those “articles should be inviolably observed by every state, and that the union should be perpetual; nor should any alteration at any time thereafter be made in any of them, unless such alteration be agreed to in the congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every state.” Yet the seceding states, as they may be not improperly termed, did not hesitate, as soon as nine states had ratified the new constitution, to supersede the former federal government and establish a new form, more consonant to their opinion of what was necessary to the preservation and prosperity of the federal union. But although by this act the seceding states subverted the former federal government, yet the obligations of the articles of confederacy as a treaty of perpetual alliance, offensive and defensive, between all the parties thereto, no doubt remained; and if North Carolina and Rhode Island had never acceded to the new form of government, that circumstance, I conceive, could never have lessened the obligation upon the other states to perform those stipulations on their parts which the states, who were unwilling to change the form of the federal government, had by virtue of those articles a right to demand and insist upon. For the inadequacy of the form of government established by those articles could not be charged upon one state more than another, nor had North Carolina or Rhode Island committed any breach of them; the seceding states therefore had no cause of complaint against them. On the contrary, these states being still willing to adhere to the terms of the confederacy, had the right of complaining, if there could be any right to complain of the conduct of states endeavoring to meliorate their own condition, by establishing a different form of government. But the seceding states were certainly justified upon that principle; and from the duty which every state is acknowledged to owe to itself, and its own citizens by doing whatsoever may best contribute to advance its own happiness and prosperity; and much more, what may be necessary to the preservation of its existence as a state.30 Nor must we forget that solemn declaration to which every one of the confederate states assented . … that whenever any form of government is destructive of the ends of its institution, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government. Consequently whenever the people of any state, or number of states, discovered the inadequacy of the first form of federal government to promote or preserve their independence, happiness, and union, they only exerted that natural right in rejecting it, and adopting another, which all had unanimously assented to, and of which no force or compact can deprive the people of any state, whenever they see the necessity, and possess the power to do it. And since the seceding states, by establishing a new constitution and form of federal government among themselves, without the consent of the rest, have shown that they consider the right to do so whenever the occasion may, in their opinion require it, as unquestionable, we may infer that that right has not been diminished by any new compact which they may since have entered into, since none could be more solemn or explicit than the first, nor more binding upon the contracting parties. Their obligation, therefore, to preserve the present constitution, is not greater than their former obligations were, to adhere to the articles of confederation; each state possessing the same right of withdrawing itself from the confederacy without the consent of the rest, as any number of them do, or ever did, possess. Prudence, indeed, will dictate, that governments established by compact should not be changed for light or transient causes; but should a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evince a design in any one of the confederates to usurp a dominion over the rest; or, if those who are entrusted to administer the government, which the confederates have for their mutual convenience established, should manifest a design to invade their sovereignty, and extend their own power beyond the terms of compact, to the detriment of the states respectively, and to reduce them to a state of obedience, and finally to establish themselves in a state of permanent superiority, it then becomes not only the right, but the duty of the states respectively, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. To deny this, would be to deny to sovereign and independent states, the power which, as colonies, and dependent territories, they have mutually agreed they had a right to exercise, and did actually exercise, when they shook off the government of England, first, and adopted the present constitution of the United States, in the second instance.
Another case from which a dissolution of these confederacies may follow, may be, where from any accident, or want of concert among the confederate states, the legislative or executive authority of the federal government may happen to be suspended, so as that no legislature or executive magistrate can, for a long space of time, succeed to an exercise of the functions of the former. As if a majority of the states should refuse any longer to choose representatives, or to supply the vacancies in the senate, in either of these cases it would seem that the legislature would be destroyed; on the other hand, if it should happen that no president should be chosen at the period when a president ought to be elected, here there would be a suspension both of the legislature and the executive, inasmuch as the president is an essential constituent part of the legislative body, since all bills, before they become law, must be submitted to him for his approbation. Now whenever the administration of any government is wholly suspended, a dissolution of the government follows of course; for, as Mr. Locke observes, whenever there is no remaining power31 within the community to direct the public force, or provide for the necessities of the public, there certainly is no government left; where laws cannot be executed at all it is all one as if there were no laws. And if this be a sufficient reason for the dissolution of civil government, the reason is much stronger why it should amount to a dissolution of a federal government, whose existence is infinitely of less consequence than the former. Civil society, and civil government its cement and support, may well subsist without the aid of federal government; but they are so intimately blended, with each other, that civil society is in danger, the moment that civil government is exposed to hazard: it may, indeed, survive for a little time; as the pulsations of the heart are known to continue after every other vital function is suspended; but if they be not speedily restored, the whole animal frame perishes together.
Intestine wars are another cause which must necessarily break these unions, unless upon the establishment of peace, the league be also revived. A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations, says the author of the Federalist,32 who can seriously doubt, that if the American States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown, would have frequent and violent contests with each other. And as the prevention of such contests, was among the most cogent reasons to induce the adoption of the union, so ought it to be among the most powerful, to prevent a dissolution of it.
Conquest, where the conqueror happens to possess himself of one or two, or more of the confederate states, is another mode by which these confederacies may be dissolved; for the conqueror in this case, acquires no manner of right, over those states that remain, nor can he demand to be admitted into the confederacy, by virtue of the league which engaged the conquered states to the others, for, says Puffendorf, the alliance must always be presumed to expire, when any one people are brought under a foreign yoke, or are made an accession of another kingdom, because the league being made between free states, considered in that capacity, whenever this condition fails, the league must fail with it. But the American confederacy did not act upon these principles, when the states of Georgia and South Carolina were actually conquered by the British arms, and the British government was reestablished in them. The rest of the confederates did not abandon them in this situation, but continued the contest until Great Britain agreed to acknowledge those states, as well as the rest of their confederates, free and independent states. An example which I trust the members of that confederacy will hold in reverence for ever, even, though the guarantee of a republican form of government contained in the present federal constitution should be wholly forgotten. On the other hand, these systems do more closely unite, and are incorporated into the same civil state, either, if all the confederates, by a voluntary submission, incorporate themselves together, under the entire rule and government of some one person, or council, in all things; as in the union between England and Scotland before mentioned; or if some one state, which hath the advantage of strength and power, reduces the rest to the condition of dependent provinces. And lastly, if some particular man invade the sovereign command, through the favor of the soldiers, the esteem of the commonalty, or the strength of a prevailing faction. From which last source more danger may be apprehended to the American Confederacy, than from all the rest.
Having in the preceding section considered the several modes by which a system, or confederacy of states may be dissolved, I shall add a few words only concerning the dissolution of civil government, which, according to Mr. Locke,33 and other writers, may happen either by conquest, and tearing up the roots of society at once, or by the public functionaries who are entrusted with the administration of the government, abusing, or betraying their trusts, and instead of consulting the happiness of the people, endeavoring to establish a model and form of government different from that which they have been entrusted to administer. All which may be summed up in the words of the American declaration of independence, “that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of those ends for which it is instituted, it is the right of the people to alter, or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their happiness and safety. Prudence indeed will dictate that governments long established, should not be changed for light, or transient causes. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
I shall now proceed to offer to the student a view of the constitution of the commonwealth of Virginia;34 after which I shall go on to consider that of the United States, from which a more correct view will be obtained of the nature of the American governments, in general, than could be given in a general essay upon the nature of the several kinds of government.
works used by tucker
[2.]See Rousseau’s Social Compact.
[3.]Burgh’s Political Disquisitions.
[4.]Paine’s Rights of Man.
[5.]Hutchinson’s Moral Philosophy.
[7.]Mackintosh on the French Revolution.
[9.]It has been said, that to call a government “a representative democracy, is a contradiction in terms, and as improper as to call it a democratic aristocracy.” … Swift’s Laws of Connecticut, vol. 1, 21. … With all deference to this opinion, I would ask, whom do these representatives represent? If they represent themselves, only, then I grant the government is not a representative democracy, but an elective oligarchy, or if you please, a democratic aristocracy: in which the people have indeed no power but to “chuse their rulers.” … But if these representatives represent their constituents, that is, the people; then is their authority not their own, but the authority of the people; and a government administered either directly or indirectly by the authority of the people is a democracy, as is agreed on all hands; if administered by the people themselves, then is it a simple democracy; but if the people appoint some few from among themselves to represent them, then I conceive such a government may, with the strictest propriety, be called a representative democracy.
[10.]Editor’s note: Tucker never identifies the writer referred to here.
[11.]Robertson’s History of Greece.
[12.]Travels into Italy.
[13.]De Lolme’s Constitution of England.
[14.]St. Etienne. Editor’s note: Tucker here is citing a person who expressed the ideas of St. Etienne.
[17.]Editor’s note: In referring to “the suffrage of a late exalted character,” Tucker means the election of John Adams, a notorious admirer of the British constitution, as president.
[18.]Mackintosh’s Defence of the French Revolution.
[19.]Burgh’s Political Disquisitions: “It was reckoned, there were 232 members of the first parliament of George the first who had places, pensions, or titles: besides a great many brothers, and heirs apparent, of the nobility, or persons otherwise likely to be under undue influence; the number of which was not below fifty, which added together makes 282. A frightful majority on the side of the court. And there is no reason to suppose the Augean stable is generally cleaner, now, than it was then.”
[21.]Sir William Devanant.
[22.]T. T. T., formerly a delegate in congress from South Carolina, and afterwards a member of the house of representatives in congress, from the same state. Editor’s note: Tucker here refers modestly to his brother, Thomas Tudor Tucker, author of the next eight paragraphs.
[23.]Hutchinson’s Moral Philosophy.
[25.]Editor’s note: Here and throughout his constitutional essays, Tucker refers to the Tenth Amendment as “the twelfth article of the amendments to the constitution.” Apparently he was counting the twelve amendments originally proposed by the first Congress, two of which, however, were never ratified by a sufficient number of states.
[31.]On civil government.
[32.]Federalist, No. 6.
[33.]On civil government, a work with which every American ought to be perfectly acquainted.
[34.]Editor’s Note: Tucker’s essay on the Virginia constitution is not included in this edition.